Innovation and the Disrespect of Scientific Invention

Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a new idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.”

Dean Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Business, an iThinker pondering Canada’s innovation gap, writes in a recent op-ed piece that

“The first lesson is that commercial success and impact is more about innovation than about invention. Invention is the creation of some new-to-the-world technology, molecule, material, or formula. It is typically the product of the curiosity of a scientist. It can be pretty earth-shattering when it is electricity or insulin. But it can be pretty irrelevant when it is a technology in search of a user.”
The laser, created by scientist inventors A. Schawlow and C. Townes at Bell Labs, was dismissed as “a solution looking for a problem.” Eventually, this seemingly irrelevant technology found applications in fiber optic communications systems, in semiconductor device fabrication and in powerpoint presentations at leading business schools worldwide. Bell Labs invested heavily in curiosity driven basic research by scientists. Scientist inventors, free to pursue their potentially irrelevant curiosities, eventually produced important technologies:These inventions by scientists are the foundational elements Mr. Jobs “cobbled together to make the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPod”. Without them, Apple’s innovative product line would simply not exist.

Basic scientific research is the soil in which innovation grows.