invention

Design Thinking ≠ Innovation

Design thinking does not guarantee innovation.

It’s a process structured to get you thinking in a different way; to get your siloed teams to think differently together; to focus on your customer or whatever human you’re serving with your product/service; to get you out of your stale comfort zone; to get a fresh perspective on your business; to put existing parts of your business into new strategic combinations.  

All that may result in innovation, but only when you put down the resources and commit to bringing your validated ideas to market. That requires lots of hard work by multiple teams in your organization. That’s innovation.

And yet, what Design Thinking does guarantee is a path to innovation; the first few well-travelled bricks on the yellow brick road in the right direction. It’s a guaranteed way to connect you to your customers (or whoever your product/service serves). And, it’s definitely a tool to rewire your brain and your company’s DNA in the process to become more human-centered in your decisions.

Viewing the method of Design Thinking as one that guarantees innovation will leave you disappointed. You’ll miss the journey in the way to your destination. And, the journey here matters a lot.  

Invention ≠ Innovation

We use a lot of words interchangeably in conversations. If we use something long enough to stand-in for something else, and if the difference is subtle enough, eventually people will come to accept the interchangeable meaning.

In recent conversations, I noticed people use innovation to mean coming up with new ideas. We “innovate” to come up with new products or services. “Innovation” changed the industry. In almost every thesaurus these two words (innovation & invention) are listed as synonyms. But, there is a subtle difference.

Invention is a leap of faith. It represents a unique idea so different from anything else that even the Patent Office agrees it’s yours. Innovation, on the other hand, is the process of bringing your invention to market with the goal of changing human behavior to lead to mass adoption.

The telephone is an invention. Your use of the telephone every day to call your grandma - instead of sending a letter - is innovation. The iPhone as a device is an invention. Your addiction to it on a daily basis is innovation.

The difference between invention and innovation is the degree to which human behavior changes. It’s the difference between a new “thing” and how much that new “thing” affects the people around you. In startup land, this is the idea vs. effective execution.

This subtle distinction makes a huge impact in world of UX, CX, Service Design, and Design Thinking.

Clients want earth-shattering, new, and shiny ideas that will give their products or services a “competitive edge.” That’s invention. The smart ones come looking for strategic ways to change human behavior through iterative, human-centered, incremental trial & error processes. That’s innovation.