Home Articles Innovation? Invention? Opportunity Capture? What’s the difference?

Innovation? Invention? Opportunity Capture? What’s the difference?

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Most businesses, whether large or small, realise that in order to stay ahead of the game they must constantly renew what they have to offer, whether they’re offering products, processes, services or simply the way you do business.

Change is essential.

Many businesses challenged by the need to change have embraced ‘creativity’ as a change medium. But what does this really mean? And can it be systematically applied to a business?

I believe that ‘creativity as a tool that endeavours to identify new opportunities’ is a little too generic. Just asking somebody to ‘be creative’ and you’ll see what I mean. This type of vague instruction really has no starting point.

This is where the more focused approaches of ‘invention’, ‘innovation’ and ‘opportunity capture’ come to the fore. These are ‘hard tools’ that are immediately applicable to any business.

So what’s the Difference?

Invention

An invention, by definition requires an element of novelty. There needs to be some part of the idea for which no ‘prior art’ exists. Perhaps a good simple definition of ‘invention’ is: ‘Products without precedent’.

Game changing inventions are often the result of ‘pure research’, such as the development of the semi-conductor transistor, the laser, the early day vaccines that completely revolutionised medicine or new materials such as nylon, plastics and Teflon.

‘Applied research’, on the other hand, is work undertaken to develop an invention with a clear target market in mind and is vigorously pursued by many large companies. But in this case, the outcomes are possibly best described as ‘innovations’ because their starting point was the identification of a real need if a solution to a particular problem could be found.

The flat screen television is a classic example. Though the technology it embodies includes many inventions, the clear market aim was to ‘innovate’ the large square box TV with the sure knowledge that a market success would be the result.

How right they were.

Innovation

Innovation is best defined as ‘change that adds value’ and this is a call to action. This definition is founded on two important principles:

  1. There is nothing that cannot be changed in some way to add value, whether it is a product, process or a service, or simply the way you do business.
  2. Changing something that is already well accepted in the market place and making it even better is a sure way of almost risk free new business.

In other words, simply find any product, process or service that is in widespread use and make it better. In doing so you can almost guarantee that you will have removed the single biggest risk in business, that of market failure.

The principles of innovation are extremely simple. All you need are some simple tools and some people willing to explore anything you perceive to be in widespread demand. The outcome will be a clear winner in all but a few cases.

Opportunity Capture

This is what I like to refer to as the big picture as it encompasses both innovation and invention.

Ideally, with both invention and innovation, we require a starting point, something on which to focus our attention.

‘Opportunity capture’ offers just that. It’s the seed we need to spawn both invention and innovation.

Opportunity, defined as ‘An observed fortunate set of circumstances’ can easily be taught to people and systematic opportunity search methodologies can be put in place that not only teach your people to understand what an opportunity looks like, but moreover inspires them and provides the tools with which to search.

Opportunity is the real game changer and perhaps a better term to describe what is presently referred to as ‘open innovation’, though even in that case the open innovation model still fails to put in place a systematic opportunity search mechanism.

Where to from here?

It goes without saying that the need to change is ever on us. Research based invention is expensive, risky and has in many cases has an extraordinarily long time to market.

Innovation is both simple and relatively risk free, if done properly.

The real secret that should underpin all change endeavours is that of structured opportunity capture, that’s the big picture.

Roger La Salle is the creator of the Matrix Thinking technique and is a prominent international speaker on innovation, opportunity and business development. He is the author of three books, Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australia and overseas.

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