sai-kiran-anagani-74899We love to hold up technology advancements in examples of moving society forward. Steam engines. Light bulbs. Drones. Cell phones.

But we only do this because they’re tangible. You can take a picture of it, perhaps even hold it in your hand.

I would argue that the vast majority of innovations aren’t technological at all. They’re process refinements, business models, and marketing strategies.

An example that’s close to my heart is the Apple iPod. Yes, I’m one of those Neanderthals who still listens to music on a dedicated device rather than my phone.

Many would think that Apple invented the concept of the compact MP3 player. Not true: There were a fair number of devices emerging at the time. But loading music onto them was a terrible hassle, and required knowledge and patience that few would put up with.

Apple arrived with a device that was pretty simple to use and was pretty modern, for the time. But their real innovation was creating the ecosystem around it so that you could easily purchase music and magically load it on the iPod.

OK, there’s some technology in that. But the real innovation was creating the category as accessible, usable, and desirable. Don’t forget that in 2001, Apple was viewed as the Macintosh computer company – a consumer audio device was a total surprise.

Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field” was what propelled the iPod into the awareness of the tech savvy, then the broader population. It was a totally new business model for Apple and indeed the portable music industry. It was a new way of distributing and purchasing audio content.

But we have to remember that the first generation iPod was, itself, not the amazing part of this transformation. In fact the iPod line is now all but dead, but the model of internet-based, licensed, media distribution is very much alive and growing.

By the way, Edison’s light bulb that we hold up as such an amazing invention? It would have been worthless without the whole new way of distributing electricity through cities, and a new model for getting revenue from consumers.

Perhaps your next big money-maker will be to take someone else’s invention and make it practical, accessible, and profitable.

This article was first published in InnovatioNews.