Innovate vs. invent

I was driving down Page Mill Road in Palo Alto last weekend and passed the HP complex on the south side of the road. The HP sign was out front — HP / Invent.

That invent moniker got me thinking — as I remember it, Carly Fiorina shortly after she took over HP as CEO relaunched the company’s image with that invent theme.

I really like it — it speaks to me about the core heritage of HP and the great ideas and products that the talented engineers there have developed over the years. I found it interesting that invent was selected, not innovate — which frankly has more of a marketing spin than the core message the invent communicates to me.

This morning I read Bob Cringely’s latest Pulpit column — which ends with his rant about use of the words innovate and innovation.

This word, which was hardly used at all until two or three years ago, feels to me like a propaganda campaign and a successful one at that, dominating discussion in the computer industry. I think Microsoft did this intentionally, for they are the ones who seem to continually use the word.

But what does it mean? And how is it different from what we might have said before?

I think the word they are replacing is “invention.” Bill Shockley invented the transistor, Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce invented the integrated circuit, Ted Hof invented the microprocessor. Of course others claimed to have done those same three things, but the goal was always invention.

Only now we innovate, which is deliberately vague but seems to stop somewhere short of invention. Innovators have wiggle room. They can steal ideas, for example, and pawn them off as their own. That’s the intersection of innovation and sharp business.

Wow! Are you an inventor — or an innovator?

One reply on “Innovate vs. invent”

i believe this is the lot of humanity – we do not invent, we simply innovate. it has taken some truly extraordinary people to invent something, to think laterally around a problem and come up with a unique solution.
the technology today is simply a refinement of technology from the mid 1900’s.

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