By Alex Goryachev
Managing Director / General Manager
Cisco Innovation Centers & Employee Innovation Programs
Despite popular belief, invention is not the same as innovation. Just as people confuse disruption with innovation, they get invention, ideation, and innovation all twisted up into one singular concept. They are related, but the distinction is quite simple: invention and ideation are all about coming up with ideas, innovation is about executing on them. To put it in relevant business terms, invention does not require commercial success, innovation can’t exist without it. Whether innovators develop an idea from scratch or build on successes of the past, they must execute continuously and relentlessly—which is really the only thing that is under their control when it comes to success anyhow. Inventors, on the other hand, can create something, then call it a day.
Consider the number of patents filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office every year; they receive applications for literally hundreds of thousands of them.[i] In 2018, they issued their ten-millionth—they’ve been busy since Bell, Morse, Edison, and Ford.[ii] The year prior, 3.2 million patents were applied for globally.[iii] Many of those patents will never be acted upon—that’s invention, not innovation. Of course, many inventions are not patented and are kept as trade secret, like Coca-Cola’s recipe, and some patent activity occurs for other reasons besides commercialization, like image and prestige, not to mention patent trolling. But 97 percent of all US patents never end up making any money, probably because most inventors lack skills to take their ideas to the market.[iv] That’s where teams come into play.
Teams are absolutely necessary to figure out whether or not certain ideas are worth pursuing in the first place, providing insight into they’re viability (most team members will appreciate their peers’ help with this aspect early on). If they are viable, then working together in teams is the only way to turn these good ideas into reality. Otherwise they’ll never come to fruition. Still, teams will only be successful if they consist of individuals with unique skills, personalities, and backgrounds and who are willing to collaborate together, regardless of title or function.
Related, no function or team within an organization should have a monopoly on innovation—not now and not ever. In fact, it’s quite dangerous if only one does. Transformative ideas can occur anywhere, and their scope should not be limited to an employee’s core function or job description. As a leader, it is not your responsibility to “box” your people in, but rather to give them opportunities to explore innovation while helping them to align their efforts with organizational goals. Help them express their ideas and subsequently move beyond ideation and invention. Have them start innovating by connecting them with other employees who are open to the possibilities of innovation and willing to work with cross-functional teams. Effective, cross-functional teams are essential to solving one of the biggest problems hurting even the most successful companies and making it impossible for them to innovate—the dreaded silo mentality.
[i] United States Patent and Trademark Office, “U.S. Patent Activity, Calendar Years 1790 to the Present,” USPTO.gov, 2019. https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/h_counts.htm
[ii] Nilay Patel, “The US Patent Office has issues 10 million patents,” The Verge, June 19, 2018. https://www.theverge.com/2018/6/19/17478898/uspto-utility-patents-10-million-issued
[iii] WIPO, “IP Facts and Figures: Patents and Utility Models,” wipo.int, 2019. https://www.wipo.int/edocs/infogdocs/en/ipfactsandfigures2018/.
[iv] Stephen Key, “97 Percent of All Patents Never Make Any Money,” All Business, 2019. https://www.allbusiness.com/97-percent-of-all-patents-never-make-any-money-15258080-1.html.
Alex Goryachev drives innovation for transformation and growth for Cisco, the $50B technology leader. As head of global network of Innovation Centers and Employee Innovation Programs, he enables the company’s connections with the external innovation ecosystem, driving growth in previously untapped markets
Alex built and established Cisco Innovation Centers as a focal point for open collaboration with Cisco’s worldwide ecosystem of customers, partners, startups, entrepreneurs, academia, researchers, and public sector. Under his leadership the Innovation Centers have grown globally and contributed nearly $1B billion in revenue, accelerating growth across multiple industries through new digital solutions beyond Cisco’s traditional reach.
His new book, Fearless Innovation: Going Beyond the Buzzword to Continuously Drive Growth, Improve the Bottom Line, and Enact Change, is published by Wiley and provides a step-by-step guide for getting past the confusion, overcoming fear, and getting down to business to create an environment of true innovation. Learn more or purchase it here.