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Editor's Buzz - Jan 19/09

"Invention and innovation are quite different things," declares Dr. Lienhard, emeritus professor of technology and culture at the University of Houston. To promote invention, a lab manager has to devise methods of instilling a sense of freedom in the research staff.

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with Pam Ahlberg

Invention is "new technology that really changes things, that is radical disruption," explains Dr. Lienhard. One reason for this disruption is that invention is cumulative, as noted by Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, a nonprofit organization that celebrates inventors and inventions: "Side effects or limitations of an invention create new opportunities." Invention can result in the creation of entire new industries. An excellent example is the invention of the digital computer in 1939. It took a while, but this invention resulted in the creation of information technology industry: computers and software. Similarly, the invention of the airplane resulted in the development of the airline industry and greatly increased personal mobility, which resulted in a vast expansion of the hotel and travel industries. It also resulted in a new dimension for warfare: aerial combat.

In contrast, "Innovation is seldom accompanied by major disruptions," says Dr. Lienhard. "Innovation literally means renewing something. Innovation is the result of wanting to be just a stitch ahead of the competition. And American industry likes to use it for a kind of incremental tinkering of something already there. Innovation is safe, while invention is dangerous."

How does your research facility increase the invention productivity of their people?

I'd like to hear from you.

Kind regards,

Pam Ahlberg
Lab Manager Magazine