Ideation and Invention

In grad school, we talked a lot about invention. Invention is distinct from discovery and the scientific method in that it is a process of combination rather than unique observation or singular insight. This helps mark the distinction between designers and scientists - the latter is about finding a single truth, while the former can accomplish multiple solutions through a more inductive process. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about invention in the New Yorker and one of the takeaways was his distinction between invention in the artistic (or cultural) realm and the scientific realm. He notes that artistic invention is truly invention in that it is the unique creation of an individual, while scientific inventions happen in a cloud (or, that most inventions are destined to be discovered eventually). By this, he means that a scientific invention is the product of previous accomplishments as well as (and this is important) the fact that almost all "inventions" have been duplicated simultaneously or even previously. Many times, the wrong inventor is credited when in fact someone else - completely independently - has developed the same solution.

It seems the definition of invention needs clarity, since the common perception of how solutions are discovered is more aligned to the archetype of the solitary genius than someone working within a community and era. Gladwell mentions this as well, reporting that Robert Merton researched the subject and posited that geniuses do the work of many people (30+). This doesn't diminish their accomplishments, in fact it shows how brilliant they are that 30 other people might discover the same thing it took only one person to