Invention vs Innovation vs Improvement | Raw Ideas For Scrutiny

What’s the difference? Is the above an invention, an innovation, an improvement?

Invention is something new which hasn’t yet been adopted or fully proven to the audience or market it’s aiming to assist.

Innovation is doing something different that has an ongoing positive effect.

Improvement is the result of advances on a status quo.

Do they each require a different model or are they complimentary stages along an evolutionary framework?


Invention -> Innovation -> Improvement

Or maybe improving something through invention is innovative?

Raw ideas in need of collaborative critiquing—what do you think?



  1. Hi DK

    We’ve been thinking a lot about innovation, in particular the importance of developing innovation literacy in young people in NZ. Watch this clip and let us know what you think

    You also might be interested in this student activity

    And our explanations of some key innovation ideas


    1. Appreciate you taking the time to comment and sharing your resources.

      ‘Innovation literacy’ is a delicious term / provocation and watched the film – great stuff (as with the other resources).

      My post was an attempt to explore if there were distinct processes behind the three terms… another words, do they need different conditions / models and / or all part of the same?

      PS Feel free to leave your name next time as always good to humanise :-)

  2. Such a great topic to discuss, DK.

    There’s lots of ideas around innovation processes – I was collecting these while working for Science Learning Hub. You can find them here – As you’ll see, lots of creativity and the end user is a key part of the process.

    I think that improvement = incremental innovation and in that way, I’d say it involves the same processes as innovation.

    Invention is different in that there is often not a commercial end user in mind or there is limited value in the invention at that point in time (for example, it’s too expensive to make). It also by definition requires the outcome to be patentable. Innovations, by definition, don’t have the same ‘need’ to be patentable. However, there are inventions that go on to be innovations (eg see this from the Field Days Was this intended to be an innovation from the beginning? I don’t know. However, I imagine that some of the processes involved in invention would overlap those involved in innovation.

    And to wrap up for now, did you know that there is an innovation exhibition on at the National Library in Wellington? Info is here – Leading Edge – It’s well worth a look.

    Happy to discuss this topic further : )


    1. Thank you Paula – loving the Pinterest board and will mine for inspiration (just like “innovation models” search).

      Just bouncing of some of your comments:

      Improvement can be gained via repetition as it will influence efficiency (or at least create feedback on the process not gained from a small amount of actions). This familiarity forms a depth of understanding which can inform adjustments whether to the conditions or performance (or both) to drive further efficiencies. Not sure if that’s innovation, yet.

      Traditional invention is synonymous with patent and wonder if innovation is used interchangeably with that word anyway? Either way, the models and conditions for both is what really interests me.

      re: Leading Edge – have a tab open on the exhibition and will heading there this week :-)

      Again, appreciation for the thought-nudges…

      1. Yes, I’d agree DK, improvement can be gained by repetition. In many innovation models, iteration (or trial & error, fast failure, early prototyping) is an important step. I think you’d find many examples of innovators who talk about this phase during the innovation process. However, it might be different if we’re talking about improvement as the next step in an innovation process (ie improvement of a process / product recognised as being innovative). The question then being – is this improvement still innovation / part of the innovation process? I’m not sure as I haven’t really thought about this.

        And I’d agree too that invention and innovation are often used interchangeably. I don’t consider they’re synonymous, though – more that in some cases, there’s a blurred line between when an invention starts to be termed an innovation. Maybe this is just to do with time passing and perspective? Also, not all innovations start off as inventions (as they can be ideas borrowed from elsewhere and then are ‘new’ to the country / culture / community…)

        I’ll look forward to seeing what you come up with about models, process and conditions!


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