From invention to innovation

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Imagine that you have a brilliant idea, perhaps for a new product. You have even made a prototype. So, how do you turn your creation into a commercial success? How do you transform the invention into innovation?

Definitions of innovation vary in their wording, but they all stress the importance of completing the development process and carrying the invention into practice. Sometimes, the action of inventing and the process of making it work technically and commercially happen more or less at the same time. When this is the case, it is hard to distinguish invention from innovation.

However, as the American sociologist Everett Rogers has pointed out, there is normally a time lag between the two. It is not uncommon that an idea is implemented several decades after the first person came up with the original idea. In some cases, such lags are caused by external factors. Leonardo da Vinci did not manage to carry out his plans for his advanced flying machine due to lack of suitable materials, production tools and a power source. If you are not Leonardo da Vinci, though, it may perhaps be possible to minimise the lag between invention and innovation.


According to the Norwegian economist Jan Fagerberg, one has to combine several types of knowledge, capabilities, skills and resources in order to turn an invention into an innovation. It is wise to pay attention to for instance project management, market development, financial management and organizational behaviour. Luckily, you do not need to be good at all this by yourself. It may be enough that you team up with people whom have other skills than you have. The inventor is not necessarily the same person as the innovator. In my last blog post, I was a bit imprecise when I claimed that an entrepreneur in the Schumpeterian view is an innovator that comes up with new inventions. Schumpeter himself recognised that the entrepreneur, the innovator, could work with the ideas of others.

Problems arise, though, when this happens without the inventor’s consent. There are many examples in history where the creators of essential technologies have failed to profit from their breakthroughs. Elias Howe from Boston produced the world’s first sewing machine in 1846. He did not manage to sell it in the USA, so he travelled to England, but with little success. When he came back, he found that Isaac Singer had stolen his idea and built a successful business from it. The moral of the story is: If you are a Howe, do not condemn the Singers. Team up with them instead.

Miriam Øyna

Miriam is Incubate’s innovation columnist. In her free time, she is dancing ballet, eats marzipan and comments on other people’s language. She is a typical eternal student, with a Bachelor degree in Journalism, a Master degree in Society, Science and Technology and has now embraced Business Economics.

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