Are You Innovating or Improving?

innovateWhat is the difference between true innovation and just improvement?  I was listening to a podcast the other day and they were talking about libraries.  Libraries have been forced to change or become obsolete.  Why?  Because information has changed, no longer is the majority of information available in print form.  Therefore libraries must change to suit the new mediums.  If we think of libraries in terms of only books they will increasingly become irrelevant.  By completely changing our ideas about libraries and integrating other media types the library can evolve to meet its true purpose of being a source of knowledge for all types of purposes.  But can we call this innovation or is it simply improvement?

Innovation is not evolution it is revolution.  Evolution is the iterations that come after innovation.  Revolution is a complete change from the existing norms.

Sometimes we think that we just need a better tool or “widget”.  Henry Ford is credited with the quote, “If I had asked them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”  This embodies the difference between innovation and improvement.  If our frame of reference is horses, we ask for a bigger, stronger, faster horse.  Innovation is solving a problem in a way no one has ever thought of before.  This is why true innovation is rarely accomplished by consensus or public opinion but is rather the brainchild of an individual.

To innovate we must step back, out of our normal frame of reference, and do something different.  It is only from this perspective that we can innovate rather than just improve.