Is that innovation or invention?

While closely related, invention and innovation are distinct concepts. Invention is a technology driven breakthrough, bringing something new to the world, that acts like a doorway for innovation to occur. Innovation is an iterative process of improvement that either sustains or disrupts a consumer market.

Wright brothers first flight at Kittyhawk

A great example of this distinction is the invention of flight allowing for the innovation of air transport into a major industry.  The Wright brothers are largely credited with inventing the airplane, but what they really invented was a steering device, which allowed them to make the first “controlled, powered and sustained, heavier-than-air human flight.”

Among the early innovators of air transport were Donald Douglas, who created the DC-3, a robust aircraft capable of carrying things and people, and Henry Ford who was instrumental in the development of paved runways, passenger terminals, hangars, and radio navigation.  Without these innovations, airplanes were an interesting novelty, but they didn’t fulfill a real customer need (like traveling or shipping packages over long distances).

The Ford Trimotor is an example of innovation

Simply put: Invention is driven by technology and innovation is driven by consumer need.

Another example:

At Hulu we are focused on the consumer experience of video entertainment, and innovation is one of our primary goals as a business.  What drives our forward progress is an obsession over our customer’s needs, and a commitment to delivering better and better services to meet their demands.

Innovation in digital media requires deep expertise in software and communications technologies, and along the way Hulu has been awarded many patents for inventions that push the consumer experience to even higher levels.  But we didn’t invent most of the technology we use, or create most of the content viewed on the service; rather we are assembling existing components in new ways that are transforming the media business for users, advertisers, and  content owners.

Is that innovation or invention?

Many popular web-based services are breaking ground in the way people communicate, connect, and work with each other.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell if these things are novel inventions or early stages of innovation that will shift markets or generate new ones.

I wonder if Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are inventions or innovations.  They are all valued with great potential to disrupt and transform, but to me they appear more like inventions in their current forms.  They are very cool, novel ways to interact, but that is by definition, invention.  What consumer markets have they created or disrupted?

I think it’s going to be very exciting to walk through the doorways they have created and see what innovation on the other side will produce!



Thanks IDEO!!!!

The time has come for me to leave the amazing atmosphere of IDEO and jump into the bold, new world of start-ups.  Next week I will head south to Los Angeles and begin work at hulu, leaving behind the coolest place I’ve ever worked, a ton of fond memories, a pack of great friends, and a transformational experience in my professional development.  To all of the great people of IDEO who have helped me push the envelope of organization design, think crazy thoughts, and test the limits of prototyping on real people in real time:  THANK YOU.

I am forever a changed person and will always count my IDEO experience in the “best of times” category of my life.  I hope to do you proud and take design thinking to even further heights at hulu.

As you might imagine, the place where I’m heading must be pretty amazing for me to consider moving on, and well, it is pretty compelling!  There’s a lot of buzz in the world of technology and media as the new era of video distribution comes of age, and hulu is right in the middle of it.  This will be a whole new education for me as I join Jason Kilar and company in the building of a great new organization.

I’ll keep you posted on things at hulu as I get my feet wet.

Getting Leverage for Change

I just saw a great post on Seth’s blog about challenging convention.  I really admire how he generates cool insights and puts them simply so they are easy to remember.  As I was reading his tips for challenging convention, it occurred to me that there’s a deeper issue below such challenges.  He refers to the convention as “it” and I began to wonder about the possibilities of “it”.

leverageOne of my favorite movie lines is “there could be anything in there!” (from: A Christmas Story), and this statement is so true here.  It really matters in his third point about leverage.  If “it” is a simple change to a control knob, your leverage challenge is relatively straightforward and concrete.  If “it” is a new paradigm of consumption, your leverage challenge requires a whole different level of challenging.  Some types of leverage are more powerful than others, but most importantly you should use the right one for the task at hand.

For example: are you trying to challenge the convention of a controlling music volume (Seth’s example)?  By shifting the convention from a physical knob to a digital slider you can focus on the physical parameters of the human/machine interaction.  But if a person is not already of the mindset to interact with music via a computer, your users will experience a disconnect.  The more effective leverage point would be to focus on the mindset of listening to music via a computer first, then shifting your focus to the digital interaction.

I believe this is what Apple did with the first iPod.  The early generation machines still had familiar physcial controls.  Now the iPhone has a completely digital touch screen.  If they had not first gotten people to listen to music via the iTunes system, I would think the adoption of the touch screen may have struggled.

For more ideas about leverage points, Dana Meadows provides a great spectrum in her article: Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System.  Check out the summary on Wikipedia.

Infectious Action

Here in Palo Alto there’s a movement afoot.  The folks over at the Stanford are hoping to get a portion of downtown Palo Alto to become a pedestrian mall.  Check out the post on Metacool by Diego Rodriguez for more details and to join in the action.

I love that they have a class called Creating Infectious Action (CIA) there.  Based on the recent scare caused by the swine flu, infectious transmission of very small things is a force to respect.  I loved Stephen King’s view of this topic (The Stand) as it plays on all of the big fears involved in such an outbreak.  The point is, if you want to make change happen, understanding how this dynamic works is like being a change magician.

Damon Centola at MIT has done some great research to point out how social networking theory needs a bit of a makeover.  In short, the original “small world” theory (Granovetter, 1973) proposed that people who don’t know each other very well can spread behaviors, information and diseases through a dynamic called long ties.  This appears to hold up just fine with simple contagions that can be passed between two people with no other effort (like the flu), but not to hold up if the contagion being passed requires 2 or more people to reinforce it.  Think of it like being a carrier of a flu virus which requires you also to kiss someone else in 10 minutes to activate the infection.  If you catch the bug, but don’t kiss someone within the time limit, the bug dies out and there’s no spread.

Complex Contagion Bridge

For something like the Palo Alto pedestrian mall to come to life, there’s quite a lot of reinforcement that needs to happen, long ties are too weak in this case.  It’s a complex contagion that requires conversation, discussion, influence, and discernment.  In order for it to take hold, a person has to first “catch” the idea via one of the hundreds of people posting it on Facebook or a blog (long ties/small world) and then they have to discuss it with people they know well (strong/high bandwidth ties).

According to Damon, complex contagions operate under four social mechanisms:

1. Strategic complementarity (huh?)… that is, several complimentary factors in play at the same time. Like how technology and cost go together to support innovation.  Until costs come down, some technologies are not enough to create action.

2. Credibility… this is the “everybody’s doing it” influence factor at work.   Research by Chip and Dan Heath shows how hearing the same thing from multiple sources helps get something to “stick”.

3. Legitimacy… if close friends do something together, “innocent bystanders” feel more able to join in.

4. Emotional Contagion… ever feel the vibe of a big crowd and just go for it?  That’s this one.

So don’t just let Facebook do your work with a simple post.  You have to mix it up with people mano a mano, get some demonstrations going, and experience live interaction to get a real change to take place.

Which animal are you?

Are all animals hierarchical by nature?  Are humans? Bob Sutton posted a great topic comparing managers to baboons.  And of course the easy inclusion of the Office character Michael Scott shows the ubiquity of our “dominant mindset” thinking about organizations.  It is clearly the case that most organizations we know are hierarchical.

Some of you may know about biomimicry and how it can inspire great design. I read the Starfish and the Spider and had a few chats with Ori Brafman awhile back and it got me really interested in the idea of organizations as animals. With animals there are thousands of strategies for “survival of the fittest” and many of them don’t involve hierarchy.  So couldn’t there be many types of organizations that don’t involve hierarchy?  What advantages would the organization have if it was built from a different fundamental structure?

The real lesson from biomimicry here, is that animal adaptations come from interacting with the environment.  That is, they are not internally developed as a strategy, but they are externally evolved based on the forces around them.  So given the business environment you are in, what animal could inspire your organization design so you could succeed better?

By the way, this is not like adopting a mascot because it’s cool or cuddly, it’s about understanding the different mechanisms that help animals function and thrive and (wait for it, a big word is coming..) making isomorphic design choices for your organization.

Here’s a design device that provides three ideas to stretch your thinking about systems, tools, processes, and behaviors, using three animals for inspiration:

Animal Inspirations for OD