Invent or innovate? that is the question…

To invent or to innovate – is there a choice? What’s the difference? Who’s responsible? What are the risks?

When discussing invention and innovation several cliché’s come to mind with this one being the most obvious to me. Innovate or perish – The tortoise makes no progress unless it sticks out its neck!” And yes, it even has a hint of risk…

In the Not for Profit sector, I would argue that most organisations are risk adverse but don’t recognise it. As a result, they have difficulty being sustainable. Many say they aim to be an innovative organisation, but find it hard to achieve. Some want to be leaders in invention but will this ever be realised?

Is there a link between invention, innovation and risk? NFPs want sustainability, but to achieve this they need to be inventive and/or innovative. To be either requires measured risk taking.
Invention and innovation can occur anywhere in an organisation. The appetite for invention or innovation – and understanding the risks – starts with the organisation’s Board and management. Arguably, a risk adverse Board and management will not achieve a sustainable outcome.

So where does invention fit? Simply, invention leads to innovation. That is, without invention, innovation cannot occur. For a NFP organisation to be seen as inventive there must be a measured risk taking environment in place. At an organisational level, being inventive can mean the creation of something new, a solution to a perennial problem or a set of elements that can achieve a solution that is unique. It can be the product, service, practice, process or procedure that evolves from the need for a novel response to an issue. That is “necessity is the mother of invention”.

However, innovation can be the key to sustainability for an organisation. Innovation can bring the invention to reality. Innovation can be the means of ensuring the invention continues to be relevant, that is, innovation means something is evolving to meet changing demand. There are three reasons to innovate; these being to replace or rejuvenate a product or service, to create a difference or competitive advantage that is difficult to copy, or simply – survival. Often the strategic focus of an organisation dictates the drive for innovation; or reflecting on the above saying “vision is the father of innovation”.

At an innovation level this can mean investors, finances, understanding market scaling, marketing and branding the innovative solution. It then needs to be distributed to the marketplace through sales, licences, and other approaches that ensure the value of the invention and/or innovation is not lost. That is, its intellectual property.

Nevertheless, what has the greatest value to an organisation?

  • Its capability and cleverness to be inventive; or
  • Its competence and flair to be innovative?

Both are important, but very few organisations get it right. It becomes a balancing act that is underscored by the capacity of the organisation to accept measured risk taking. The critical decision for a NFP organisation is to recognise:

  • The reasons why it needs to be inventive and/or innovative;
  • Its capacity and capability to be inventive and/or innovative;
  • That invention and/or innovation will have impact on the sustainability of the organisation; and
  • A measured risk management environment is in place to enable invention and/or innovation to flourish.

If you would like to explore your organisation’s capabilities further, contact CBB’s consulting team: