"Why, with this invention..."

Apparently, if my goal in last week's post about invention and innovation was to spark discussion, bringing up the Edison/Tesla rivalry was the right thing to do. For example, here's a excerpt from Richard Lessman's comment:


Except that despite being poor and having many of his inventions unrealized, a hundred years later we're still using Tesla's work rather heavily. This says something about his pure success as an inventor, with or without massive market capitalization.

...And I agree. Yes, our electrical distribution mechanisms use Tesla's AC, not Edison's DC. Yes, Tesla's coils became a component of other inventions, such as radio transmitters and medical devices. And yes, arguably, Tesla is a vastly underappreciated inventor.

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Separating invention from innovation

It's not clear when it happened, but at some point in the history of the technology industry, people lost the distinction between invention and innovation. While insisting on the difference between the two words may seem like a minor semantic difference, it's as fundamental as distinguishing between speed and velocity as the same thing. In fact, mixing up invention and innovation is potentially as dangerous as confusing chemicals and medicines, if you prescribe one when you really need the other.

Tesla, Shmesla
Both Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison were inventors. However, Edison was the better innovator. Fannish biographies of Tesla that complain about history's indifference to Tesla's genius are missing the point. Even if everything Tesla had invented exceeded Edison's in brilliance, Edison was much better at getting his inventions developed, sold, and distributed. (Throw in Tesla's unproven inventions, like the death ray and ion-powered aircraft, too, if you want.)

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Space Marines, attack!

A segment of the technology industry reaches a point where the different species of applications are well-known and well-established. As long as no new species emerge, vendors settle into a features arms race, hoping to impress potential customers an ever-increasing number of options and capabilities. Meanwhile, many customers look at their limited time, limited budgets, and limited interest levels, and wonder why on earth these vendors think that added complexity is always a good thing.

Sound familiar? It should--and perhaps not for the reasons you think. I'm actually talking about the computer gaming industry, which in many respects leads their more serious brethren among software companies. Take a moment to consider the challenges that game vendors have faced and overcome:

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