What is Inventing: How is it different from Discovery and Innovation?

Inventing and Innovation are terms used interchangeably and have become catch-all phrases. The best way to understand the key differences is to borrow the definition used by Art Fry, the famed inventor of  3M Post It Notes. As per Fry, Inventing is the process of taking an idea from concept to a thing (product or service). At per Fry, “Innovation is the act of working through all of the obstacles and problems in the path of turning a creative idea into a business”. It is also helpful to understand what is the difference between discovery and inventing. Discovery is the process of finding or discovering a fact which remains a fact irrespective of when or if it is discovered. An invention is the process of active conception which may use discovery as a means to the end or not.

Most of the write-ups about innovation mainly focus on patenting, copyright laws, business model canvas, design thinking, product development, marketing your invention and ideation. As Ideation is a small part of inventing, business model canvas, design thinking etc and developing an IP framework is a small and mostly inconsequential component of the innovation process. The most important piece of innovation is to apply “inventive problem solving” to generate a return on creativity. In another post, we will discuss the best way to create a financial framework for Creative ROI which is totally different than the financial metrics used in startups and mature enterprises.

It is also important and perhaps helpful to know that there are no five (5) steps to inventing or “Inventing for Dummies”. Inventing is a complex activity that leads to simplification of complex problems into simple solutions. Inventing is the process of moving from problem space to the solution space and is context independent. Content independent means that the methodology can be applied to any context including product development, finding a better job, solving a problem that has been bothering you for a long time. After all, Gautam Budha, the founder of the spiritual practice Buddhism was an inventor of sorts. He was trying to solve humanities biggest problem i.e. human suffering.

“Discovery is the process of finding facts in the system or environment being analyzed. Inventing is the generic process of moving from problem space to solution space to convert an idea to a product or service. Innovation is a comprehensive process of taking a creative idea into a business concept to generate an ROI on Creativity”

We will now discuss the myths around Inventing and then provide an early version methodology of Inventing. In another post, we will specifically discuss a radical method of inventing called “Breakthrough Inventing”.

Eradicating the Hyperbole, Rooting out the Folklore and smashing the Myths

Inventing is considered the domain of the genius, celebrated engineers and entrepreneurs, design thinkers and creative brainstormers. Nothing could be further from truth. Inventing like discovery and innovation can be learnt and applied by anyone in any context. Many of us are not aware that most of us invent solutions to our problems every day unconsciously, intuitively and without realizing that we are inventing. Inventing is responsive problem-solving in a given context and is the grandmother of Innovation. Innovation is inventing across context, domains, value chains to achieve a creative ROI.

Let us now shatter some myths about inventing.

Myth 1: Inventing is a faculty of Genius.

Reality: As we have already discussed, Inventing is responsive problem-solving. Problem Solving is the process of searching a large search space with specific criteria using various rational/intuitive discovery and reasoning processes until we find an optimal solution to the problem. The journey can be frustrating with many dead ends. We use chance discovery and a zig-zag path to find the answers. If the problem-solving approach is mundane, we call it “Way of Life’. We indulge in “Way of Life Inventing” everyday, right from deciding how to navigate our way through congested traffic to finding a solution to a sudden financial setback. “Way of Live” Inventing is so subtle and all-permeating in our life, that most of us do not notice it.

However, occasionally, we find ourselves in challenging problem spaces where the subtlety transforms to prominence in our consciousness. In these rare occasions, which we call milestone events, the problem/solution space may be completely greenfield or foreign to us and we may feel completely stuck. We can say that this is what prolific inventors experience around their product/service/contextual spaces. Some of us can find our way in this maze and others may take evasive action by withdrawing. If we persistently remain focused on solving that key milestone problem, over time, we can rapid cycle and find the optimal solution (more on that later).

Inventing is not only the privilege of genius or celebrated. Inventing is responsive problem solving and we already know how to invent on a day to day basis. We can easily scale it to the next level if we are motivated and persistent to find a solution.

Myth 2: Inventing is not the same as Innovation and Innovation is more important than Inventing 

Reality: Inventing and Innovation are problem-solving in different contexts. The terms are a matter of semantics i.e how we use linguistics to describe our understanding of something. People have been inventing for eons right from Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Galileo and Wright Brothers. Were they inventing or innovating?

The term “Innovation” has created a new knowledge bubble in the industry in which jargon and buzzwords allow informational asymmetry to be created in the space.  The industry that thrives on knowledge bubbles frequently hypes, embellishes and convert simple things into complex space full of jargon. Complexity is good, if it enhances our understanding of the domain, but is not effective and useful if it creates hyperbole and jargon maze. As Big Data is eventually finding ”actionable small data”, likewise, Inventing and Innovation are about reducing complexity in the space to find simple, actionable next steps.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication ………..Leonardo da Vinci

Myth 3: We must fail fast and enough times to Invent 

Reality: Failure is helpful if leads to reduced failures in the future. Failure is an unproductive waste of human effort when it leads us nowhere. If we look around us, we will find that continuous improvement is not necessarily driven by failure. Failed events allow us to learn lessons and take corrective action so that we can become more productive and efficient. This is why we do not expect to hit our car to the garage door while driving out, we do not expect the surgeon operating on us to think of us as learning resource if the patient dies. Our lessons learnt from small failure and big failures should unleash a long wave of productivity and efficiency after which we may need to fail and start any long wave of productivity. If human efforts have a value, is something finite, energy consuming and there is a fine line between productive effort and unproductive efforts, then, this concept applies to inventing as well.

As a matter of fact, after studying more than 300 inventors and mapping their cycle time using data from public resources, I have found that “inventing cycle time”i.e. the time it takes to move from a well-defined problem space to an optimal solution space is lower in productive inventors versus unproductive inventors.We must find ways to reduce the cycle time in inventing so that we can use the process with a larger range of problems and then move on to the next.

What is Inventing and how can anyone Invent?

Inventing is the process of finding solutions to any problem. Responsive problem solving is context-based adaptive problem solving on a continuum. Inventing requires both context and the problem driven, outcome oriented task. In responsive problem solving, the challenge increases as we move from existing to new contexts or new problems within the same contexts. The most challenging problems are those in which both the context and the problem is new. We call such problem and domain spaces are greenfields i.e where no one has ventured before. New Ideas that cannot transcend the invention space and move into the innovative spaces are born still ideas that are a dime a dozen.

Inventing Matrix Zone

Matrix Zone

The key attribute of inventing is Novelty. I created a term called the “Novelty Factor (NF)” to measure the novelty of an insight or solution. Novelty Factor is subjective in nature and is different for each person. What may be novel to one person may not be novel for another. Having studied the unconscious and intuitive decision making of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, it is always easy to see why most venture pitches fail. The billion dollar idea in one person’s mind may be worth the darkness of the waste bin for another. Novelty Factor (NF) can be increased by hype or well-positioned marketing. However, such hype driven NF will quickly convert into shock and disappointment. As such, unless novelty factor of one person is legitimally and ethically delivered across a value chain for the stakeholders, it is of no use.

Inventing Novelty Factor

Novelty Factor

Humans love insights as insights are accompanied by a rush of Dopamine, the pleasure chemical. Being dopamine-driven led unsuspecting investors to lose their investments in the Bernie-Madoff scam. As such, insights filled with novelty need to be thoroughly stress tested to ensure that we are not being mislead by ourselves. In the insight spectrum, too much of dopamine and always computing inventing brain is known to be present in mental disorders such as schizophrenia and psychosis.


Core Inventing is a crazy problem obsessing one perpetually till one solves the problem it and has the potential of making one crazy in the process. Inventing is crazy size of problem-solving. 

A Broad and Simple Framework for Inventing 

Kindly note that the framework outlined here is a simple and basic framework and is not aimed at discussing the detailed process around Inventuit ©. Please also note that Inventors modify this process and there are multiple variants of it. (As a matter of fact, we have found around 30 plus variants of this process)

Inventing involves the following process (some steps are on linear critical path and others are more non-linear. All the steps are need to fulfill the necessary and sufficient criteria for a problem to be solved) :

  • Loose Framing of the overall problem area (Fuzzy Front End)
  • Formulating a problem statement (even in your head)
  • Assigning a timeline to the inventing intent (cognitive pressure tactic)
  • Research greenfield domain area (explore)
  • Release psycho-somatic impediments to the process. (Incubate)
  • Set yourself up to recognize, capture, seize and embed insights in the solution domain. 
  • Create a nuclei around which insights, conscious data, routine observations, biases can be structured and aggregated. (High-Level Research)
  • Re-frame the overall problem area and the problem statement to test for validity. 
  • Associative Indexing process (To assist with recognition)
  • Structure, Prioritize, Classify and Cluster the aggregate responses
  • Reframe problem area, reframe domain area and create generic landscape with problem embedded in non-fuzzy domain.
  • Release psycho-physiological impediments of the next level
  • Loop Forward and Loop Backwards (Perpetual Beta)
  • Document, aggregate and develop clear domain representations (Expert Systems Development)
  • Apply selection criteria 
  • Second level looping. (A more faster, nonlinear process)
  • Assess ‘Delta’ between initial state and current state and keep looping till ‘Delta’ is reduced to negligible.
  • Apply to product/service/solution specific higher level domain (if required)
  • Recognition of ‘Delta’ closure and apply ”Sensemaking”. (Know if your ship has arrived)
  • Prototype (if required)
  • Business Analysis (if required)
  • Roll out and diffuse the Invention in the domain/marketplace or environment
  • Enjoy and Celebrate (Very Important)

Remember that Inventing is not about one big ‘Aha moment’. Inventing is aggregating a series of small ‘Aha moments’ into a big ‘Aha Recognition’ and remaining in Perpetual Beta (Continuous Improvement & Innovation). It is a structured activity with a lot of scope and flexibility for play, for insights to surface, for enhancing the ability to see existing or emerging patterns in data or cues. It is then aggregating those insights around the logically researched areas and using Sensemaking to understand the new data representation. Mind you, Inventing is not Play. Inventing is not Design Thinking. Design Thinking and Play are small inputs (subsets) to the Inventing Process and not super sets of Inventing.

While the ‘Eureka Moments’ are mostly highlighted and celebrated, what is rarely highlighted is that Inventing is a tedious, complex and frustrating process where the Inventor frets, worries, is transfixed and lives his/her life on the edge till the problem is solved. It is such an intense process that one of the well-known inventors forgot to wear clothes and ran out naked in the streets, when an “‘Aha Leap” took place. Significant Aha Leaps are shown to actually shut down the frontal lobes (executive decision-making part of the brain) till the inventors recovers from cognitive overloading effects.

As for the search for truth, I know from my own painful searching, with its many blind alleys, how hard it is to take a reliable step, be it ever so small, towards the understanding of that which is truly significant….. Albert Einstein

An Einstein or Marie Curie is sleeping within all of us.

Wake him/her up !

And if you need some help, drop me a line. I would be more than glad to assist.

Carpe Diem

Wikimonk @ Wikimonk.com