Clearing the smog

‘Shhh… Innovation in progress!!’ ‘Hey! I am working on an innovation project’. Hope you have heard these before. I have also seen these a lot of times on organization walls! Geek friends telling me this. I always felt conflicted by these statements and thought of how can someone work on an innovation?? This inspired me to write my point of view on this topic. Through this POV it is my attempt to make it as simple as possible for every reader.

For understanding my point of view on this it is important to understand what do each of these terms means. 

  • Invention
  • Innovation
  • Improvement
  • Creativity
  • Design Thinking and others


Invention is creating something that never existed before. Let’s try to understand this with the help of an example.

I am sure a lot of you would have heard of the name of Thomas Edison. Yes, the person behind creating the bulb, which later on was one of the most important inventions that lead to bringing light to the life of humans and humanity.


Learning: Invention is when you create a context that never existed before. Like in the case of a bulb!!


Innovation is playing around with existing things and making them, even more, customer-friendly. Let’s try to extend the same example.

Let’s talk about the recent creation of smart bulbs that are connected with wifi and can be operated from mobile phones, Alexa, Google talk, etc. These are being termed as great innovations that happened to the bulb post its invention. 

Let’s get a bit deeper in this, the bulb existed, the internet existed, mobile phone existed, Alexa existed. Someone at some point in time observed that customers want a different level of illumination depending on their mood or the situation. Customers use remotes to operate TVs, Audio systems, etc., and asked the question “What if?” to the context of the bulb and the smart bulb got created.


Learning: Innovation is when you play around with existing contexts to make them relevant to humans/customers thus increase value. It can be with both combining contexts OR separating contexts. 


Improvement is when you create something better keeping the absolute same context. Let’s try to see this context of the bulb.

For a long, the bulb went through the journey of increased efficiencies by bettering illumination with lessoned electricity consumption.


Learning: Improvement is when the context remains the same however the product becomes more efficient for the customers. 


Interestingly in all of the above explanations, you would have seen a common word ‘create’ i.e. to bring into being. That’s it, creativity is an innate ability that humans have. It is about the ability to attempt to create something.

Remember the times of your childhood when you did not know what you trying to create but you started creating them and then the AHA! moment …. With a twinkle in your eyes. Hey mom!! see what have I created!! 


Learning: Creativity is not about having that amazing great idea/s OR about creating those great sketches and paintings. It is about having that AWESOME! ability to create things even when you don’t know what are you trying to create. WE ALL ARE CREATIVE!!! Ultimately It is just about having enough Lego blocks to connect. 

Design Thinking and others:

  • Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to ‘CREATE’.
  • Systematic inventive thinking is a product-centered approach to ‘CREATE’
  • A lean start-up is an idea-centered approach to ‘CREATE’
  • Six Sigma is a data-centered approach to ‘CREATE’
  • Lean is a waste centered approach to ‘CREATE’

Let me try and explain what do I mean to say by this. I have heard enough no. of people ask OR say to me, we are using design thinking to innovate. The thing I try to explain to them is, you cannot decide ‘Invention, Innovation, Improvement’ at the start, these are all outcomes. What you start with is a vision and intent to ‘create’. All of the above are approaches that enable you to create and scale. But nothing replaces the ‘INTENT’ to create. Remember you never needed any of these when creating in your childhood!!


In summary, never start your creation cycle with the vision to ‘invent, innovate or improve’ … start with the intent of “what is the purpose”. I have seen a lot of people, being proud of the inventions and innovations and not so much about the improvements. I think the pride should be not on the outcome …. But on your ability to create. 

My final words on this one, ‘Enjoy Creating, the tags can come later!!’


– Ajay Aggarwal.

About the author, Ajay Aggarwal

A Haryanvi by origin, an entrepreneur at heart and a consultant by choice, that’s how Ajay likes to introduce himself! Ajay is the Founding Partner at Humane Design and Innovation Consulting (HDI). Before starting HDI, Ajay founded the Design Thinking and Innovation practice at KPMG India. His 16+ years of professional career spans across various roles in product and service design, conducting strategy workshops, storytelling and enabling an innovation culture. He has coached 50+ organizations and 2000+ professionals in institutionalizing design and innovation practices. He loves to blog and speak on topics related to Design Thinking, Innovation, Creativity, Storytelling, Customer Experience and Entrepreneurship. Ajay is passionate about learning, writing poems and visualizing future trends!

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