What does innovation mean to you? Innovation is attached to all sort of products and services. What does it mean to be innovative? The definition of innovate is to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. The assembly line was a manufacturing (process) innovation, it revolutionized the way production of products until now. Before assembly lines, a workers might travel the entire manufacturing space completing separate and individual task. Assembly line processes ushered in mass production and created efficiencies in the production process.
There are two basic types of innovations; Incremental and Radical. Radical innovation better known as disruptive, is an innovative idea that introduces something new and changes the perception of a category use. It’s going from nothing to something like the IPod. The IPod wasn’t the first digital recorder, however it so revolutionized personal music players that all digital music players are referred to as an IPod.
Facebook or Twitter is an example of an incremental innovation, both improves and adds to an existing service (social media) connecting with people you know using a media source. The first attempt at creating a social connection platform using a media device was T-Mobile’s FIVE. Facebook improved on T-Mobile’s idea and expanded the concept of Myspace. Twitter allows for real time news and information. For years the news was delivered through radio and television broadcast throughout the day. Today we can follow any story from around the globe using Twitter.
Incremental and Radical innovations can occur in products, services and processes. An example of a Product innovations might be the laptop computer. A service innovation might be a computer check in system that automates the process, also considered a process innovation.
We are probably more familiar with incremental innovations. Incremental innovations are easy to disseminate throughout most organizations, industries and society. Incremental innovations are safe. Changes to check in or waiting room policy is called an innovation. Adding LED lighting to kitchen appliances are innovative. Public Relations companies make millions re-branding organizations with mere tweaks to their operations.
Solving the big challenges will require more than incremental changes. Big challenges require radical thinking. The past 30 to 40 years three challenges have remained fairly unchanged; medical coverage, immigration and taxation policy. I challenge you to find anyone who doesn’t agree that these three systems needs fixing. However, to fix these challenges requires blowing up the current system and starting anew.
The challenges of starting anew are generally the same. Those at the top of the org chart are risk adverse. Many can’t see the forest because of the trees. These “leaders” are more likely to hire a PR firm to associate innovation with their organization, without actually doing anything innovative.
We are addicted to what we know. We are afraid of change. Research on the best way to improve healthcare show overwhelming support for universal coverage. This support is not only by end users, but also those studying cost structures. After years of debate, what changes occurred. Incremental expansion of coverage to include more but not all Americans without healthcare.
Innovation is a new color of paint, but painting a car a new color should not be considered an innovative design. Incremental thinking can shift the paradigm. But to go from nothing to something, we have to employ radical thinking. We need to take risk, while not being risky. Every great idea was once a crazy idea, just before it became a great idea.