Invention, Innovation and Knowledge Work

I heard a corporate presentation yesterday about innovation – I won’t mention the context, but suffice it to say it was the standard stuff that you hear from many corporations about the need to innovate or die – and then find out the group tasked with innovation isn’t even the size of a small startup – and reports somewhere deep in the bowels of the company.

But it did get me thinking abou the difference between invention and innovation. Putting it glibly –

Invention – From nothing to Aha!

Innovation – From Aha to Ka-Ching!

It used to be that you needed invention before you could do innovation. Get the basic science right – and then figure how to leverage that into products that people want. In social software, I think what we are seeing is that the innovation (actual products being used in the field) is the invention – though many of better social software systems heed well know truths about organization and social interactions. The reason this works is that the internet makes it cheap and easy to try out and iterate on new ways for people to collaborate – testing a hypothesis on real users. There is also enough funding available (through venture capital) to do this on a large scale. Back when I was at IBM research we used call this “research in the marketplace”.

This doesn’t hold in the corporate environment – which is why it is lagging and we don’t see knowledge worker productivity products with the blowout success of a Facebook or a Twitter. Not that I don’t think Facebook-like or Twitter-like product won’t be valuable in the enterprise – it is that they won’t make a significant difference to overall knowledge worker productivity.

The problem is that an eco-system isn’t there to easily try new way of increasing productivity for knowledge workers and there no real VC support. An organization will only adopt tools that have been proven to work. So how do we get around that “chicken and egg” problem? How can we increase “research in the marketplace” for the enterprise market to increase the productivity of knowledge workers?


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