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Invention vs. Innovation

Why little changes make a big difference
Like the episode of Futurama, in which Bender meets “God,” “If you do things right, people wont be sure you did anything at all.”

The prevailing opinion of the entrepreneurial world is that you have to create something big to make a difference. Like Mark Zuckerburg or Steve Jobs, you must change the landscape of human and technological interaction for the foreseeable future to make it big. Although the prospect of making billions of dollars or being able to rock a black turtle neck is endlessly exciting, sometimes all it takes is small acts of innovation to be successful.

It’s easy to doubt ourselves; we are smart, motivated and good at our jobs, but few of us have had the inventive spirit to launch a revolution within our industry. Don’t fret, however, it seems that the secret to implementing great ideas isn’t that revolutionary at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Like the episode of Futurama, in which Bender meets “God,” “If you do things right, people wont be sure you did anything at all.” The secret to meaningful innovation then, is not so much changing the landscape of your industry forever, as it is making small changes that amount to big returns.

In an article found on called “Why We Need More Small Ideas,” the author Howard A. Tullman discusses the merits of small ideas, arguing that the kernels can be more innovative than the whole cob. “[People are] trying to invent some new killer product or service, which, in many cases, they would be unprepared and unqualified to develop and deliver. They don't realize that there are substantial opportunities for important and lucrative changes sitting right in front of them. These are improvements in their current businesses — good, smart, simple and “small” ideas which could be winners for everyone involved and which they are already experts.”

Tullman argues that it’s not necessary to invent the next “Sham-Wow” or “Snuggie” to make a huge difference in your company or industry. Rather, it’s important that you identify a problem that has a small and easy solution to help make things run more smoothly. These kinds of innovations not only have huge implications for your company at large, including possible jumps in revenue, but also help you make future differences with small ideas.

So, next time you find yourself trying to re-invent the wheel, take some of the pressure off by thinking of small ways that you can help your company, your industry and even your own career.