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Jul 11th, 2015 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

Innovation, Invention and Starting With The Problem First

Alan Kay, the man who gave the world the laptop and tablet, the graphical user interface and object oriented programming (and many other inventions), makes an important distinction between innovation and invention.

Invention is developing something completely new. Innovation is the act of bringing something new to market. Small but important distinction. Xerox PARC invented. Apple innovates.

Almost every entrepreneur innovates; very few invent. When you build a connected sensor to measure blood sugar to fight diabetes — you innovate. You combine existing technology in new and novel ways; you typically don’t invent a completely new sensor from the ground up.

It’s important to understand this distinction as it has profound implications for entrepreneurs.

Often entrepreneurs start their journey from the perspective of the technology (“we use the blockchain to solve problems in the supply chain industry”) not the problem (“we identified a particular problem in the supply chain industry which we will fix”). When you innovate and your mind is locked on a specific technology, you have an incredibly hard time to change or pivot as you anchored your solution in the technology. Only if you start with the problem first and are agnostic toward the technology can you easily change or pivot.

When you innovate you need to be in love with the problem, not the technology.

Only when you invent can you be start with the technology first (as the use case for your invention is typically not fully defined).

tl;dr: 99% of the time entrepreneurs innovate and don’t invent. When you innovate you need to start with the problem (and not the technology) first.

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