Invention, Innovation and Buzz Word Bingo

I was watching the PGA championship today, (I was taping the Bears game to watch later this evening!) when this ad from a company I can’t remember started discussing the difference between Innovation and Invention.  It was a brilliant ad (although I can’t remember the company) and got me thinking about the difference and how often the two are confused in our industry – and businesses in general.  Most importantly I think it helps to formulate ideas to create an actual definition of what Innovation truly is.

Innovation vs. Invention – Know the Difference

While trying to find some resources for this post I stumbled across a post written by Ogan Gurel, MD in 2007 simply entitled, “Innovation and Invention – Similar Words, Different Concepts”.  In it, Ogan does a really concise way of pointing out the differences between the two.

An important distinction is normally made between invention and innovation. Invention is the first occurrence of an idea for a new product or process while innovation is the first attempt to carry it out into practice.  What is captured in this definition is the concept of innovation being the actualization or realization of an invention whether it be a societal benefit, commercialization, market entry or monetization.”

Take this into consideration while reading the 2nd line of the Wikipedia definition of Innovation:  ”Although the term is broadly used, innovation generally refers to the creation of better or more effective products, processes, technologies, or ideas.”

So the question that continues to ask itself to me is, “are we really innovating the real estate process or simply inventing new ‘we can do it’ technologies?

Buzz Word Bingo

While trying to find the ad that started all of this,  I stumbled across this series done by IBM that I thought was spot on.  I never caught the original airing of the videos, but feel that they couldn’t be more pertinent.  How many times have you sat in an event and wanted to yell, “BINGO!”  What I think applies here is that we are all guilty of this – capitalizing on the “keyword” of the day and trying to fit it into various solutions.  Currently in the real estate space we have hundreds of technologies, processes, awards and individuals touting the “Innovative” flag from their tower.  Does the definition really fit?

Just because you call it…

Innovation man… I think just about every company has one.  The speaker circuit is filled with them and I have been privy to a couple of “management meetings” with folks just like Phil here.  What I LOVE about this video is that the woman in it calls the 800lb Gorilla to the table – where is innovation without implementation?  Nowhere.  Let’s add this to the Wikipedia definition of innovation and see what we get.

“Innovation refers to the creation (AND IMPLEMENTATION) of better or more effective products, processes, technologies, or ideas.”

Hmm… I like it.  Where creation and implementation COULD kind of be used interchangeably I think this spells it takes it a little further.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

Innovation Means Making Something Better

Maybe it’s because I use a Droid and not an iPhone but this put into words what this entire post is about.

“in the end, Innovation doesn’t really matter unless it does something, that really matters… to you.”

Just because you SAY something is better doesn’t mean it is.  Think of Windows Vista… it MIGHT have been innovative on some level, but was it really “better”?  Or let’s bring it a little closer to home.

  • To the “lists” – have these people really made business better (for the consumer) or changed the industry (for us) or provided (the agent/broker) with something tangible to benefit your business?
  • To the “vendors” – does their product really make the (insert action) better for your (home buyer, home seller) or does their service allow you to do your job better?
  • To the “companies” –  have they made the industry better for (agents/consumers)?

Think about this for a minute.  Maybe these folks (and companies) have some great ideas.  Maybe they have a product that is incredibly cool – or stretches the barriers of technological brilliance.  Maybe… but wouldn’t this make them “inventors” and not “innovators”?

Calling a Spade a Spade

I don’t really care what you want to call yourself, your company or others that surround you.  Hell, I’m no Saint and am guilty of using words out of context.  But if innovation… TRUE innovation, is what moves us forward as an industry and a society, shouldn’t we at least know what we need to do to be “innovative”?  Many reading this have had talks with me in the past that we are actually distancing ourselves from our target audience (consumers) by continually confusing them with our websites, home searches and other tools because we have focused on “invention – i.e. can do it” and not “innovation – should do it because it’s better”.

In the same article that I started out with, Ogan has a great example of innovation that I think many of us can relate to:

“One example is the iPod, which as a standalone product is really not very inventive. MP3 players had been around for several years before the iPod. While there may be unique hardware and software aspects to the device, the fundamental invention of having a handheld MP3 player was not at all new.

What made the iPod truly innovative was its combination of aesthetic design, elegant ergonomics and ease of use. Also, there was the creation of the iTunes software and Web site that enabled listeners to actually use their fancy iPod. It is the combination of all these elements that made the iPod truly innovative.”

It’s all just food for thought – but what is it that we are truly trying to “improve” or “make better” and more importantly, “for whom”?  I think that if we all took a step back and assessed these two questions we might begin to make significant and meaningful steps forward.









  1. Great post!

    I think this says it all Matt:
    It’s all just food for thought – but what is it that we are truly trying to “improve” or “make better” and more importantly, “for whom”?

    Most innovation in our space is geared towards agents/brokers. Advancements in technology are going to change this going forward.