I have recently been engaged in some quite animated discussions where the other party was confusing several common terms so I thought that, this week, I'd share my views on a few of my favourites...


Invention or Innovation?

Invention – is the creation of a product or introduction of a process for the first time. This does not necessarily mean that it is useful on its own and it often needs to be incorporated into a wider system to realise its potential. [eg light bulb, steam engine, wheel]

Innovation – is the improvement or significant contribution to an existing product or service. Often this is the result of integrating a number of existing ‘inventions’ and ideas into a new form. [eg iPod]

Invention often requires a high level of dedication and/or specialization. Innovation comes from “joining the dots” (as Steve Jobs would say). Because of this, innovation can come from anywhere and is happening all the time. It is not the private domain of experts rather it is the domain of communicators, integrators and collaborators. The wider your experience and the more open-minded your outlook, the more chance you have at being a successful innovator.


Responsible or Accountable?

Responsible – those who do the work to achieve the task. It is a common mistake to assume that those responsible also hold themselves accountable.

Accountable – the one ultimately answerable for the correct and thorough completion of the deliverable or task. They are also the one who delegates the work to those responsible. It is a common mistake to overlook potential accountability issues by assuming that it has been covered off by identifying those responsible.

If you want to get traction with any significant endeavour it is critical that you deal with those held accountable and that they support your proposal. They can then help you recruit those that have been made responsible.


Shall, Should or Could?

When discussing what needs to be done there are several terms that have well-established meanings and precedents (especially in formal requirements or contractual documents):

Shall – this is mandatory and non-negotiable. Proposals that are not compliant with all “shall” statements should be rejected.

Should – this is desirable, a goal. Proposals that are not compliant with any “should” statements will require some form of weighted, criteria-based scoring system to allow them to be compared. Sometimes these statements recognize the need to break new ground and serve as a target; acknowledging that it may not be reached. In this case an accompanying “shall” statement is recommended to convey the minimum acceptable achievement.

Could – this is optional and really doesn’t carry much weight except in a trade-off between otherwise equivalent proposals. Use it wisely if at all. “Could” does not convey a requirement and merely presents an idea held in a favourable light.


And let's not forget that being involved is just not the same as being engaged....

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AuthorTrevor Lindars