Invention, innovation, and product management

In response to the last couple of posts about invention and innovation, Jennifer says:

While this is an interesting thread to read, and can definitely cause many long hours of debate sitting in front of the fire with our pipes et al, it seems that it might be missing the mark with product management.

Yep, I agree. Which leads me to the next point I wanted to make in this series:

Inventors in development need innovators in product management.

While the two groups often don't get along very well (product managers are naysayers, development is just doing its own thing, etc.), the partnership between them is essential.  Someone with a cool idea and enormous technical skill is usually the first person in a new product group, or a new startup company. However, that inventor can benefit immediately from someone who's a professional reality checker and opportunity finder--a product manager.

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"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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