Some words are overused and are part of fads in the media. Some words are slang, and some are part of our technical jargon. Other words become a part of our day-to-day language but have multiple, deeper meanings.
Innovation is exactly one of those words. There are multiple means to innovation depending on the context. Often, people use innovation to simply mean new and creative. For example, a company’s tagline might say “We are innovative”.
For about ten years, I have helped individuals and companies think big in launching new products and services. During this time, I have generated my own definition of innovation: to transform an idea into a commercial product or service that generates profit for the company. Innovations must bring value to consumers as well as the producer.
Watch the short video summary and read on for details of how you can become more authentic with innovation.
Characteristics of Authentic Innovation
So, the first characteristic of successful innovation is that it must be profitable. Products and services that do not deliver a profit are ones that fail to bring value to either the customer or the firm. If not enough people want to buy a product at a price that exceeds the cost of making it, it is not successful or useful. It might be an intriguing invention, but not an innovation.
In addition to profitability, there are other characteristics that apply to authentic innovation:
- Personal, and
Authentic innovation is organic, meaning it grows from a customer need. A technology, feature, or product function is designed to satisfy a gap in a customer’s service experience. Organic innovations are successful because customer insights drive research and development efforts within the firm.
In contrast, what I will call “forced innovations” start with technologies or products first, and then search for customers and markets. Consider the Segway. the Segway has really interesting technology but no large commercial applications. A much-heralded “innovation” has been relegated to security people at the mall and groups of eager tourists. There simply is not enough market volume to convert the Segway idea into a commercially profitable product.
Innovation is Personal
Nearly every purchase made by a human being has a personal element to it. We buy things and use services to add to our emotional enjoyment of life. Every purchase, and therefore every innovation, is personal.
The Walt Disney Company is well known for its high level of customer service and for innovation. Their success is based on delivering a highly personalized experience for each guest. Before you visit Walt Disney World in Florida, for instance, you are asked to select your favorite color and most beloved character for your “Magic Band”. This Bluetooth enabled wristband then serves as your unique key to your hotel room and gives you access to ride reservations in the theme parks as well as a host of other services, including payments for snacks and souvenirs. The Magic Band is an example of a very successful personal innovation.
Incremental. Successful innovation that is authentic is incremental. I am guessing a lot of my colleagues will scream, “Heresy!” when they see that authentic innovation is incremental. In the field of new product development (NPD), we always train and discuss breakthrough, radical, and disruptive innovation as the ultimate, golden award and to such to seek such innovations unrelentingly. Yet, most companies and most individuals build success through incremental change. Consider the retrospective review completed at the end of each sprint in an Agile project. The team will make one change – only one – in their behaviors for the next sprint. The reason is that too many changes are hard to track and to verify improvement. Multiple changes can be confusing to the team members and customers alike.
Likewise, a vast majority of innovations are incremental. Understanding customer needs and any gap with their current experience drives the most successful development of next generation products and services. It is an incremental innovation to have both a forward-facing and rear-facing camera on your cell phone, but such innovations can be highly profitable.
What is Authentic Innovation?
Authentic innovation brings value to a market and to the producer by transforming ideas to profitable products and services. The characteristics of authentic innovation are organic, personal, and incremental. Successful innovations focus on customer needs before design and development of new technologies or features and don’t necessarily need to be brand new-to-the-world.
Learn How To Win With Incremental Innovation
I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. I am an experienced professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or area code 281 + phone 280-8717 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.
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