Michael Schrage from MIT puts innovation in the proper context, “Innovation’ isn’t what innovators do…it’s what customers and clients adopt”. Innovation occurs when a significant number of people or organizations purchase the product or service. In other words, if done properly; innovation means making money.

The adoption rates of new technology are accelerating. It took over 90 years for automobiles to reach 90% usage compared to the cell phones that took only 20 years. The adoption curves for emerging technologies are becoming increasingly steep and the first company to market has a significant advantage.

Inventions are important but an invention is not necessarily an innovation. Typically patents are a measure of innovation yet less than 2% of inventions are commercial successes.  A patent is a legal right for the patent owner to have a monopoly for the invention. Patents can provide a significant barrier to entry from competitors for a set period of time as demonstrated with Polaroid and the instant camera.

Patent law varies from country to country but generally patents must be useful, novel, and non-obvious. The utility requirement filters out perpetual motion machines and other non-operative devices. The novelty requirement stipulates that the invention has to be new and not already known or in existence at the time of filing. The non-obvious criterion states that the invention is sufficiently inventive, involving and inventive step where someone skilled in the field of the invention would not deem it to be obvious.

Creativity is the ability to cause something to exist or bring into being through artistic or imaginative effort. Many employees feel that they are not creative yet they can probably remember when they were five years old that their parents would display their works of art on the kitchen refrigerator. The key is to encourage employees to exercise creativity and promote a safe work environment that encourages risk taking. In brainstorming activities, employees should be encouraged to express ideas that at first may seem off the wall. Fellow employees should be instructed to withhold criticism of others and their ideas.

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