Product Management Tactics — Inventions Versus Innovations

Bob Moesta, President and CEO of the ReWired Group


Invention is creating anything. Innovation is creating something that has a lasting impact on the world. Innovation builds on previous innovations. Moesta gives the example of the Segway as an invention, but the typewriter as an innovation. The typewriter, with its QWERTY keyboard, continue to have an impact on the world today. The Segway, less so.


As Paul from our team at Product Collective so eloquently asked, “WTF is innovation?”  Innovation has become such a buzzword, especially within entrepreneurial and product communities, that it really has seemed to lose much of its meaning.  Often, it’s just lumped together with other words that some might believe to be analogous — such as invention, disruption, breakthroughs. The list can really just go on and on.

But, is there a difference between innovation and invention?

A simple google search for the word, “Innovation” returns, “A new method, idea, product, etc.

The same search for the word “Invention” comes back with, “something that has been invented.”

Those definitions (albeit, both terrible ones) seem to be one in the same.  But Bob Moesta brings a little more clarity to it.

To Moesta, an innovation is something that has been created that can have an impact on society.  A typewriter is an invention.  Nothing like it existed previously.  So the actual product — the newfangled machine that allows one to press buttons to print letters on paper — is something that was invented.  (Actually, it was in 1575 when an Italian printmaker, Francesco Rampazetto, invented the scrittura tattile — a machine that allowed one to impress letters on paper… which ended up being the actual invention of what led to the typewriter).  

But the innovation wasn’t the typewriter itself.  The innovation was that there was now a method of producing text that was drastically different and did not require handwriting.  It required new skills, of course. But when combined with other innovations — such as printing presses — entire new industries were created.

Why does the distinction matter?

Understanding the difference could help us focus on how our new products can drastically change the way that our customers live.  If we focused on the invention itself — we may be thinking about the features and functions that our products have which, perhaps, other comparable products don’t.  We’d be focused on the solution.

But if we focus on the innovation — the parts of our products which are actually solving problems that our customers and users have… we may be in a better mindset to create true, society-changing products.

For your product, whatever it may be… ask yourself:  What about it is the invention… and what is actually the innovation?