Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker review of the new Steve Jobs book is excellent. In it he makes a point I haven’t seen elsewhere, essentially categorizing Jobs as an innovator, not an inventor (Gladwell calls him a tweaker, but who’s counting):
In the eulogies that followed Jobs’s death, last month, he was repeatedly referred to as a large-scale visionary and inventor. But Isaacson’s biography suggests that he was much more of a tweaker. He borrowed the characteristic features of the Macintosh—the mouse and the icons on the screen—from the engineers at Xerox PARC, after his famous visit there, in 1979. The first portable digital music players came out in 1996. Apple introduced the iPod, in 2001, because Jobs looked at the existing music players on the market and concluded that they “truly sucked.” Smart phones started coming out in the nineteen-nineties. Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, more than a decade later, because, Isaacson writes, “he had noticed something odd about the cell phones on the market: They all stank, just like portable music players used to.”
I know I must sound like a broken record at this point, but I feel like the distinction between invention (creation of a new thing) and innovation (commercialization of an invention) is a great way to understand how things really come to be.