29 May Pharma Finance brings to mind distinction between invention, innovation
Chicago, Ill. – The distinction between invention and innovation was discussed in a series of three columns previously published here. Having spent the last few days in Rome, I’ve had the chance to reflect upon the rise and fall of empires, the invention and innovation concepts described in these columns and the relation between these and the fate of nations.
While prominent commentators such as Thomas Friedman in “Imbalances of Power,” depressingly note the triple storm of fiscal deficit, trade deficit, and geopolitical deficit traumatizing America from one shining sea of vanishing strip-mall jobs to the opposite shining sea of imploding investment houses, these deficits are but signs and symptoms of a deeper disconnect underlying civilizational decline.
Invention and innovation are key to both understanding and solving such challenges.
I’m writing at the tail end of the Pharma Finance 2008 conference organized in Rome by the regional authorities (mainly Sviluppo Lazio and the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade). As with any business gathering, the 300 plus participants did the usual: sharing ideas and exchanging business cards. However, this was no ordinary conference.
This special conference (I will explain its uniqueness shortly), combined with a very personal opportunity to contemplate the ruins of an ancient Roman aqueduct just outside my hotel window in the historic Esquilino district, taught me some important and timeless lessons.
Invention and innovation are concepts that often are incorrectly conglomerated and confused. Understanding the distinction will explain the unique importance of the Pharma Finance 2008 conference.
Invention refers to the discovery or creation of a new idea. It’s usually the work of an individual. By definition, invention is outside of reality. Inventions deviate far enough from reality so as to mark the inventor as being (let us say) a little crazy. Insane genius is not an oxymoron.
Innovation refers to the combination of inventions and/or the institution of processes around a core invention. Innovation is typically the work of groups (not individuals) since a variety of capabilities and resources are required. By definition, innovation takes invention into reality. Innovation makes what would have been considered slightly crazy into what is routine.
A salient example is the IBM personal computer of 1981. As some may remember, it was named the TIME Magazine “Man of the Year” in 1982. While the PC was devoid of invention, it was most certainly one of the most revolutionary innovations of the 20th century.
The IBM engineers, sent off to secluded Boca Raton, Fla. to work their magic, were specifically instructed not to invent anything new but simply to take off-the-shelf components and bring to market whatever it was to be within 18 months.
Reflecting upon Pharma Finance 2008, I have come to realize that this conference was designed to address a very peculiar and important problem for the Italian life sciences community: the frustration in transforming the extraordinary inventiveness of the Italian scientific enterprise into productive and effective innovation.
Indeed, it could be said that this problem pertains to Italy more generally and not just the biotechnology sector.
Invention without innovation may be central to the deep malaise felt by many Italians today. This feeling was well described by Ian Fischer’s article in Dec. 2007 in the New York Times (“In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment.”) His observations received mostly affirmative recognition in Italy. Fischer wrote:
For all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself. The word here is “malessere” or “malaise.” It implies a collective funk – economic, political, and social – summed up in a recent poll: Italians (despite their claim to have mastered the art of living) say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.
Disappointment typically arises from a mismatch between reality and expectations. Italians know they should be doing better, but when their gains don’t match their talents, these can be perceived as losses. For Americans, “malessere” may soon arise from the increasing elusiveness of the American dream.
Worse still is its transmogrification into a nightmare of stranded SUVs languishing among suburban albatross mansions and abandoned with each mortgage readjustment.
Stay tuned for part two of this column.
Previous articles by Ogan Gurel
• Ogan Gurel: Socialized risk not confined to subprime mess; healthcare impacted
• Ogan Gurel: Innovation versus invention: Why accelerating development makes sense
• Ogan Gurel: Fostering innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum
• Ogan Gurel: Innovation vs. invention: Knowing the difference makes a difference
He is also an adjunct associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Gurel has a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemical Sciences from Harvard, earned his M.D. degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and completed surgical internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital. As a health care technology expert and futurist, Gurel has been a frequent conference speaker worldwide. His particular focus has been on convergent medical technologies including medical nanotechnology. In addition to the
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.
WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.Wisconsin Technology Network, his commentaries have been published in the Wall Street Journal and other print and online venues. His regular blog on life sciences, business and investment can be found here.