A good question from my post-opt-in survey:
How do you connect early-career folks with the idea that at the end of the day, a compelling mission and strategy requires hard work and some sweat equity from people like them to realize the dream?
Let’s explore the difference between invention and innovation with these early career folks.
I can relate to this issue. Earlier in my career, as I was launching startups, I had no idea what it would ultimately take to succeed. I thought that coming up with an invention would almost suffice. I completely underestimated what it would take to have the market adopt our new idea. It was because of my lack of experience.
Invention and innovation are two words that most of us use interchangeably. Obviously, they are connected and mean the same thing in some cases.
But allow me to simplify and hopefully clarify: innovation is an invention that sells.
An invention is the act of developing something new (a new product, new software, etc.) that (ideally!) helps evolve humanity towards a better state. Once you have an invention, the market still needs to recognize that there is an urgency to adopt it, and users have to be willing to pay for it. Innovation is an invention that the market has adopted.
INNOVATION = INVENTION + ADOPTION
The invention is really hard. I am thinking about the processes and products that took a lifetime to create.
Adoption means that you are causing a change in the behavior of your buyers. That’s also extremely hard. But for some reason, I’ve observed that most people believe that once potential adopters realize how brilliant the invention is, they will automatically rush to get it. We always underestimate the difficulty of the adoption part of innovation.
Changing behaviors is tough. It requires not only a strong vision and strategy but a lot of passion and persistence. My point of view is that creating a strong strategic narrative has a big impact on behavior change.
How Nils Bohlin and Volvo did it
Nils Bohlin invented the three-point seat belt for Volvo. He had previously worked with Saab to create ejection systems for aircraft. After studying hundreds of car crashes, he proved that a new kind of safety belt could almost completely avoid death in any car crash under 60 mph. In 1959, Volvo equipped all theirs cars with three-point seat belts as standard. Bohlin knew his stuff. He had data, and he was working for a car manufacturer that was fanatic about safety. To make the technology available to anyone, Volvo even literally gave away the patent for the invention.
Yet, it still took 6 years and a world tour for Bohlin and Volvo to convince other manufacturers to innovate and adopt the invention.
62 years later, the three-point safety belt has saved over 1 million lives. But, some countries and states still don’t require that you use it. Some people still refuse to use it where it’s mandatory. Volvo is still fighting for adoption.
That’s what it sometimes really takes to realize your innovation dream.