Have you ever heard about the dispute of two Steves who created an apple? Of course, it is about the disagreements between Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs: two co-founders of Apple Inc. Steve Wozniak was an engineer: he designed and constructed Apple I and Apple II – one of the first personal computers in history. Steve Jobs was a businessman: he turned ideas into market successes and, thanks to his great marketing skills, encouraged millions of people to buy Apple products. The cooperation of the two, however, was not smooth and without clashes. Wozniak has repeatedly emphasized that in his opinion Jobs is not a great visionary changing the world – but only a man with a marketing flair who can use other people’s ideas and make money on them.
Nowadays Steve Jobs is the first person that comes to mind when we talk about the creators of Apple’s success. Steve Wozniak seems to remain in the shadow of glory of his great namesake. Many computer geeks who are keenly interested in the industry openly claim that Jobs did not create anything himself, but merely “stole” fame and money from Wozniak. We are facing an alleged dichotomy between a genius and creator – namely: Wozniak – and a parasite gaining profits from other people’s achievements – i.e. Jobs. A poor but brilliant inventor versus “only” an entrepreneur. Does it really work like this and are the real creators of millions of life-changing inventions exploited by greedy businessmen?
To answer this question we have to first understand the difference between an invention and an innovation.
Inventions are the driving force of technological development which is crucial for a civilization’s development. Prosperity, length and quality of life, as well as the convenience of everyday lives of people all over the world depend on technology. Technology has increased the productivity of manufactories several dozen times – thanks to the use of steam engines. It freed farmers from hard and exhausting work from dawn till dusk – because it provided them with tractors and harvesters. It made traveling around the world easier and faster – thanks to railways, then cars, and then airplanes. However, not every invention contributes to technological development, and some – even the brilliant ones – are never widely used. Why?
Let’s look at what an invention is. James Burke in an article on Encyclopædia Britannica Online defines invention this way:
“Invention, the act of bringing ideas or objects together in a novel way to create something that did not exist before” 1 .
The first man-made wheel (and then axle, and wheelset) was an invention because it was a new way to solve the problem of transport and it made possible the creation of carts. The first hoe, the first sundial, the first water mill – each one of these was an invention, just like the inventions whose creators we know today by name, such as a modern printing press with a movable font by Johannes Gutenberg, an atmospheric steam engine by Thomas Newcomen, Orville and Wilbur Wright’s airplane or DYNABOOK, i.e. the first visionary portable personal computer designed by Alan Key in Xerox PARC laboratories. We understand what inventions were and are.
However, not every invention becomes as groundbreaking as the ones mentioned above – and it certainly does not become so immediately. History gives examples of numerous (known by name or nameless) inventors who created new technological solutions which surpassed everything that contemporary people knew about – and yet their inventions were either forgotten or simply did not find a wider resonance in the society of their era. Leonardo da Vinci, widely recognized as the archetype of the Renaissance man, was to be the creator of dozens of inventions that only centuries later were actually used – he is credited with, among others, inventing the parachute 2 . However, parachutes (as well as many other inventions attributed to da Vinci) were not used until few centuries later. You can even talk about the entire “nations of inventors” that gave the world the creators of extraordinary technologies, but often these technologies for centuries did not have any wider implications for these nations. They were rather curiosities and toys for rich elites than widely available goods that changed the lives of the masses. Ancient and medieval China can be a good example of this: a country of numerous inventions, that did not, however, significantly change the daily lives of average Chinese for a long time (often for centuries) after being invented. Even the famous Four Great Inventions (i.e. print, compass, paper and gunpowder), which in China are a classic symbol of the scientific and technological power of the country, found wider, more common and more revolutionary applications later in Europe, and not in the Middle Kingdom itself.
Not every invention changes the world, and certainly not every one does it immediately or through the actions of the inventor himself. It is not the fault of fate or immaturity of society unable to appreciate the inventor’s genius. In order for the invention to become a breakthrough and to change the lives of the masses – it must become an innovation.
Innovation is an invention implemented and used on a large scale.
The first wheel (and axle) could have been the most brilliant invention of the world at that time – but it did not change the fate of others or improve the quality of life of the people of that era, until the inventor presented his novelty, explained its meaning and applications and showed that it could be used for faster and easier transport.
Gutenberg’s printing press would not matter at all if it were not adopted by others and if it soon did not become widely used to print writings, including the Holy Bible translated into national languages.
The Newcomen’s steam engine would be forgotten and would only exist as a record in a dusty work of some historian if in 1712 the Staffordshire mine did not run the first of these machines to accelerate and facilitate coal mining – which proved in practice the efficiency of the machine in the mining industry.
Similarly, the same engine could never become a key element of the industrial revolution, were it not for the subsequent improvements and mass sales that we owe to James Watt.
Innovation is an invention that has been successfully presented to the masses and sold on the market. The inventor is (of course!) the father of the invention – but entrepreneurs are the father of innovation. Sometimes it is one and the same person – history knows many inventor-entrepreneurs, such as Thomas Alva Edison. However, the author of the spectacular success of a given technological novelty is often someone else entirely than the inventor himself. This is not surprising – after all, not every scientist or engineer must be also a businessman and a specialist in advertising, promotion and sales.
In society, everyone acts on the basis of his or her best judgment, engages in voluntary interactions with others, and has a chance to profit from it. The one who best meets the needs of a wide range of consumers gains the most – but, nevertheless, everyone gains: the inventor, the entrepreneur, the “multiplier” of a given invention and finally the final recipient of the product: the consumer.
Back to the example of China: why the industrial revolution and the radical increase in prosperity and improvement of society’s living conditions started not in China, but in Great Britain and the USA, and not before the mid-eighteenth century? It might seem that China had everything a country needs for a breakthrough: inventions, huge population, large surface area, lots of natural resources. However, for an invention to become an innovation and to actually change people’s lives, something else is needed: well-functioning market institutions and people who can make use of them: the entrepreneurs.
This new group of people took up (and continue to this day) the fight against uncertainty. What does it mean? Entrepreneurs try to anticipate the what, when and whys that will be needed for as many people as possible, and then to provide them with these goods and services in the best and cheapest way possible. They take this uncertainty on their shoulders: if their predictions prove to be correct, they have a chance to make a profit; if they are wrong they will suffer a loss.
What does this mean for the story of two Steves arguing over an apple? Are we really dealing with the story of a poor inventor: a genius used by a bloodthirsty entrepreneur? Maybe the creator of Apple’s breakthrough technology was not Steve Jobs, but Steve Wozniak. However, without the entrepreneurial skills, business intuition and market sense that characterized Jobs, Apple Inc. could not be so successful, and Apple I and Apple II could have ended up as interesting, but forgotten inventions, lying in the dust of some abandoned garage.
It is worth appreciating that we were lucky to have both of them: the inventor and his inventions – as well as the entrepreneur and his innovations.