I am not an innovator. Not an easy thing to confess these days, when innovators are the ones getting all the attention. Oh, I've had some great ideas and seen them through to fruition, and I've realized substantial success over my entrepreneurial career, so there's plenty to be proud of. But, if I'm honest, innovation has never been my focus. The word "innovation" is thrown around a lot, and a lot of entrepreneurs are called innovators or think of themselves as innovators. But, what does that really mean? Is anyone who comes up with a new idea an innovator? To some extent, every true entrepreneur has at least a touch of the "innovation gene" in them, but not everyone is what can be called a true innovator.
As an example, Motorola was the first mobile phone manufacturer to offer a color screen with the T720, way back in 2002. Did that make them innovators? Maybe, in the most basic sense of the word, but let's face it -- the color cell phone screen was coming with or without Motorola.
On the other hand, look at Apple and the first iPhone. When that device was launched five years after Motorola's color phone, it had every competing company scrambling to come up with something comparable. And now we can't imagine a phone that isn't in many ways similar to the line of iPhones since. That's when you know you've introduced a true innovation.
So, what's the difference? Both the T720 and the iPhone offered something no one else had before, and you could even say that both marked the start of a new era in cell phones. But, unless you used to own a T720 or worked for a company that carried them, you probably don't even remember ever hearing of them. Everyone knows what an iPhone is though, even if they've never owned one. That's because they didn't just introduce a tweek of an existing product or a cool feature; they revolutionized mobile interface technology and changed the lexicon of a generation in the process. That's true innovation.
Of course, it's not just that everyone has heard of the iPhone -- a great marketing campaign might have accomplished that. It's that the introduction of the iPhone caused consumers and technology manufacturers to think of cell phones in a new way.
The same can be said of companies like Uber. If Travis Kalanick had invented a new type of meter for taxi cabs, that might have been cool for that industry. Instead, he came up with an industry disruptor, and paying for a ride somewhere will never be the same. True innovation doesn't just cause a buzz -- it initiates change.