Innovation vs Invention, Gladwell vs Parc

by John

Parc's Alto Computer

Most of us know the story: Steve Jobs got a look at what was going on at Xerox Parc and took those ideas to create the Macintosh. Suprisingly Malcolm Gladwell’s article (abstract-only) on innovation contained a couple new facts (at least to me). For example, I didn’t know that Jobs paid for access to Parc (in the form of Apple stock) and that it was Apple that made the mouse affordable. (Parc’s mouse cost $300, Jobs needed one that cost $15.)

Galdwell uses the Apple/Parc story as a jumping off point to discuss the difference between invention (the creation of an idea) and innovation (the application of the idea that changes things). Yep, Parc created the mouse (invention) but Apple used the mouse to bring computers to the masses (innovation).

Gladwell’s article caught the attention of Parc (they still exist?) and Parc responded (or as other say, fired back). But the Gladwell article and Parc’s response are merely complementary. Gladwell sets up the problem (how can inventors move past the idea phase) and Parc responds with a solution (open innovation).

More and more I’m starting to think that using open innovation is the key if your battlefield is mature or crowded. Fighting over each percentage of the market is hard–using inventions for innovation, that’s where the easy money might be.