Archive for July, 2007

Does innovation have to be original?

Friday, July 6th, 2007

My new business cards have been flagged in a recent blog as innovative. See Business card innovation

While that is flattering, in all honesty this is just my incarnation of an idea I took from Marcus Wigan, a friend and colleague in Australia. He also includes his photo, which makes it easier for people to remember which of the dozens of faces they encountered that day correspond to his card. It nailed an unmet need of mine. Was this original to Marcus or was he prompted by an earlier influence?

I don’t think it matters. I think it is a mistake to be too proud to adopt someone else’s good idea if it is better than mine. So I created my own version sans headshot. Is it still an innovation?

(Why not the photo? I don’t know. Perhaps for the reason I was with the radio station rather than drama club in high school.)

Most dictionaries define innovation as “introducing something new.” I don’t think it has to be new to the world to count, just new to the context. That’s why I like cross-disciplinary work. Something old hat in one field can be innovative and revolutionary when finally brought into another. For example, I created a new kind of machine vision sensor for traffic detection based on something I saw in robotics. So for now, most people that notice the card think it is novel. I introduced something new to them, to our environment … though Marcus certainly had the more original idea and in my opinion is the real innovator here.

An invention has to be original, an innovation does not.
An innovation has to be useful, an invention does not.

Let me close with a quote from They Made America.

“An innovator’s essential contribution may be to realize the promise of the known.” — Harold Evans