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New Product Development: Invention and Innovation

Invention and innovation mean different things:

  • Invention is the creation of new products or processes. These can be completely novel and untried or may be derived from previous products, but with sufficient new features or technical attributes, that a firm can patent the design or copyright ideas included in the development. Invention often explores the boundaries of possibility, with outcomes that are both uncertain and unknown. As a result there will be more failures than successes. Total invention is difficult, because there are few ideas that others have not considered previously. However, technical advances mean that the opportunities for invention are increasing.
  • Innovation is an incremental process where an existing product, process or idea is developed further. New product functions or designs are added to a product range as a means of gaining market share. Innovation in manufacturing is likely to result in lower costs, and therefore, prices

Steven Johnson is the best-selling author of six books on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience and has nearly 1.5m followers on social media site Twitter. His most recent book, Where Good Ideas Come From, examines the sources of innovation. Johnson's view is that innovation is often seen as the preserve of the solitary individual genius working in a laboratory, who has a Eureka moment and discovers the new miracle cure or process to solve a long-standing problem. Though this may happen in rare cases, Johnson believes this is very much the exception rather than the rule.

In the chapter on "Serendipity," Johnson explains how and why a pattern of what he characterizes as a "slow hunch" can crystallize into a "dream-inspired epiphany." He suggests a phenomenon of co-creation where an accidental, but beneficial connection of ideas plays a lucky, but ultimately crucial role in the process of creation and innovation. In other words individuals with similar ideas meet, often by chance, and by sharing thoughts and processes create novel solutions that they may never have discovered on their own. The role of social networks, such as Facebook, can accelerate this process.

"[Good ideas] come from crowds, they come from networks... when you go back and you look at the history of innovation it turns out that so often there is this quiet collaborative process that goes on, either in people building on other peoples' ideas, but also in borrowing ideas, or tools or approaches to problems.

The internet was not commercially useful to most ordinary consumers for 30 years really. It was in a sense a 30-year-hunch. It was providing other services in that time but in terms of the ordinary consumer and the payoff for investment it took a long time."

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Johnson recently explained his ideas in a TED presentation which has been animated by RSA: