The simple answer is no. They are not the same thing. They are clearly related, but in order to really unlock the Evangelist in you, you need to be able to see their differences. As we analyze this idea, we will see, however, that Innovation and Evangelism do have similarities too. So let's do it.
What is the definition of Innovation that is broadest and most applicable to any situation?
Creating something better by thinking and acting differently
Why is this a good definition of innovation for our comparison?
Most would say that this is too broad a definition for innovation, but I would say it leaves room for innovation to be about a thing, a process or even oneself. In addition, it embraces the concept of diversity of thought between people and therefore allows us to include everyone in the definition. Sure if you are a business leader who is very focused on the bottom line you would prefer a more product based definition. A definition you can hold. A definition that is more concrete, and I would say by doing so, you are not paying homage to the people part of it. This definition also places the burden on leadership to focus innovation on organizing its human capital correctly if they want to produce something tangible that is innovative.
Let's apply this definition to bring it to life...
Now that I have a definition of innovation that is inclusive of every type of person, it is much easier to begin to separate the difference from being innovative and being an evangelist. If we respect that people innovate differently then we can say that a person who is in charge of finding elegant ways to simplify and debug thousands of lines of code is equally innovative to someone like a business leader who wants to make commercial travel to the moon a thing of reality. In the first case, one might think that this isn’t very innovative, but if someone can find an elegant way to create code that accomplishes the same thing with 50% less code aren’t they creating a great way to write the same code in less time. Many may never care, but the thousands of man hours saved by this method would fit our definition because they produced something better by thinking and acting differently. Would this be any less innovative as making travel to the moon a repeatable, scalable and cost effective thing everyone can experience? They both may produce different amounts of value and impact but they did deliver something better by thinking and acting differently. In addition, it is easy to see how people are part of this definition. In each case, the person innovating must have a very different skill set and makeup to accomplish their individual innovation. This is what makes the broad definition important,
What is our definition of Organizational Evangelism?
A person who can see what is possible, craft a message that brings it to life and has the ability to lead others there without having defined control of the possible they have conceived.
To dig deeper into the origins of our definition read here ===> (https://www.evangelistdna.com/post/defining-organizational-evangelism)
How are these two things similar and different?
First the differences...
Influence without authority vs. Requiring Ownership
Evangelists main goal is lead people to a place without having defined control. They are a guide to others on their journey. Evangelists do have a place in mind, but whether it turns out to be exactly what they wanted is less important than leading people in that direction. Many times, a good Evangelist wants it to be everyone else's idea rather than theirs. They are mostly interested in the end state rather than the credit. And this is why not having control is a big difference between evangelism and innovation
Innovation on the other hand is about Creating Something which requires a measure of control. If you own the creation of something, you can't simply influence people to build it. You have to own the vision, lead others to execute it, and most importantly make sure it ends up fixing the problem the innovation was created to solve. Sometimes you get there completely on your own and sometimes you work with a few or with large groups. Because there is an output you have in mind at the beginning, it represents a difference from evangelism.
Intangible vs. Tangible
This is very straightforward. Evangelism is about seeing something in the distance that may be an idea, a behavior, a change in thinking. That true north the evangelist sees is usually not quite concrete. For example, when I was a Chief Evangelist at Netbase, a social listening company, I was evangelizing a world where "what people said online" was a data set that added tangible business value to the bottom line. Of course there was a product that brought this data to life, but getting people to even recognize the power of the data itself had nothing to do with products. It was an idea that needed to be tied to business practices and then the product I sold. But I am still working on that concept regardless of product and as an evangelist, if I think people can use data to make smarter decisions, I will recommend a product that does so even if it is different than the one I sell. The concept and future state is more important than the something that does it.
Innovation is tangible. It produces a direct change that improves something that is ultimately used. One might innovate a process for how you develop a product. The innovation may be the process but it is used over and over to produce many products or services. Its ultimate output is tangible.
A Person vs. A Thing
Evangelists are people. Innovations are things. Nuff said.
Now the Similarities...
Both innovation and evangelism are hard. They are about bringing ideas, concepts or new behaviors to life. And to this end both definitions are about producing change. What that change looks like at the beginning, middle and the end might be different but the end state is certainly different. The change brings whatever it is to life.
If both produce change and change is hard, then innovation and evangelism are something that is not for the feint of heart. Things that are hard require one thing; fortitude. And fortitude is the fuel of those who want to bring to life something to the world that is much different than what exists.
And if both product change and require the where with all to make it happen, innovators and evangelists need to keep their eyes on the prize. And to do this, you need to have vision. You need to be able to keep focused on that end state no matter what goes on. With strength and a clear view of where you are going you can make the change real.
So there you have it. Two very similar ideas that are both critical to making the world better. By having definitions you can better discuss and represent your efforts as you do what is important to you.