It’s an important question to consider. There are so many people, leaders even, who feel confident they are true innovators. Innovation is creating a new idea or product. It is introducing something new to the market, or driving transformation in products or even market strategy. Innovation means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But in the end, innovation is progress, evolution, development, and really the manner in which great leaders and companies reinvent the world around us. Innovation is absolutely awesome, and we are presently living in a time where innovation is literally taking the world by storm. Innovation is literary shaping our cars, our computers, our homes, and pretty much every facet of our lives. Even the chairs and sofas we sit on. I often wonder—where would we be without the great innovators of our time?
On so many occasions, leaders of all sorts consider themselves to be innovators. They feel as if they are the game-changers, the ones who shape the manner in which we interact with the world around us. Some of them might just have a point. But not all of them are accurate in their view of themselves or their title as an innovator.
But, as I see it, there are many innovators that confuse innovation with research and development. That is a dangerous mistake to make. R&D is the work targeted at introducing and improving different products and processes. It is vastly different than innovation.
Innovation and R&D are two terms that are sometimes interchangeably used, but carry uniquely different meaning. Innovation is driving new value and value streams, whereas R&D is focusing on what you might already have. It is so important to recognize that these two terms are similar in meaning, but extremely different in action. They are complimentary, not similar.
Steve Jobs and Apple totally innovated the cellular phone industry when they introduced the smartest of smart phones—the iPhone. Fast forward to over ten years later, where they now spend millions and millions of dollars each year to research and develop this innovative product and improve its functionality and use. It started with innovation, and turned into rigorous research and development to improve on their innovative idea.
R&D is driving change in products like the iPhone, but that change could just be incremental change from year to year, version to version. Maybe a new series of apps, a different home screen layout, screen size, or adding in fingerprint or face recognition. These improve on an already innovative idea. They push the envelope, and continue the innovative process. But in and of themselves, they aren’t necessarily innovation. They are evolution. Change. Improvement. Growth.
Innovation usually occurs on a much larger and more sweeping scale. It often isn’t incremental…it is huge. Now, I am not saying that innovation is more important than R&D. They both play a tremendous role in the success of any product or company. You absolutely need both R&D AND innovation to survive and succeed. Android would have put the iPhone out of business had Apple simply stopped transforming and developing.
But don’t confuse one for the other. Because they are entirely different concepts, and should play their own unique roles in your business and the products or services you offer. Innovation is the big splash, but R&D are the continued waves in the ocean. You need them both to make a difference, and remain relevant. One without the other is a recipe for disaster.
The best leaders and true innovators understand what it means to innovate. They also recognize that R&D drives innovation, but is not innovation in and of itself. Recognizing there is a difference helps you to not only separate one concept from the other, but prevents both you and your company from finding yourself stagnant because you are just researching and developing when you think you are innovating.