Monday, March 31, 2008

NYT on Edison, Invention versus Innovation

Thanks to Andy Hargadon's blog, I found this article on Edison in the NYT that came out today. As Andy pointed out, one of the most insightful comments made in the article is this passage:

Whom we credit with an invention often has less to do with who came up with an idea, and more to do with who translated it into something usable, accessible, commercial. Garages and laboratories, workbenches and scribbled napkins are filled with brilliant ideas unmatched with determination, resources and market sensibilities, said Jack Russo, a Silicon Valley intellectual-property lawyer.

I can't agree more. In the Management of Innovation course I took with Dr. Elicia Maine and later TA'd/co-taught with Dr. Richard Smith, one of the first things we foster a debate on is "what is innovation?" In a nutshell, it is a process by which inventions make it to market. Invention alone is a respectable task, but unless the inventor or their champion can bring it to market, society remains deprived of the great idea.

For my PhD research, I am interviewing founders of high-tech start-ups (not necessarily the inventors!) about how (in their own words) they "make shi* happen." While entrepreneurship in general can be said to be about seeking independence and not "working for the man," it if often forgotten that no one is truly independent. So-called independent businesses are dependent on the support of related services firms (IT, legal, accounting, media, and various consulting firms), as well as suppliers and customers. Once I find out more about the "matching process," as it is described in the passage above, I will post something here. Until then, here is one of my conference papers from last year on the topic, which I presented at ISRN.