I see so many suggestions on the types of innovation that are around, actually I’ve offered a few myself, just go and take a look at Collaborative Innovation Reference Framework for a different slant on this. For me, one ‘type’ of innovation that seems always to be often passed over is distinctive innovation in discussions. Why is that?
Most people work away in the trenches of incremental improvements and these outputs make up the vast substance of innovation activity. Many working in these trenches of innovation on a daily basis would love to be part of a breakthrough but tend to find this is always ring-fenced for a few others to work upon. All they can often do is gaze over the fence or quietly accept this divide simply goes on.
I believe many who work within innovation simply do not share in this delineation of innovation activity, as it divides talent into separate teams, often pitting scarce innovation resource against each other, often in many unseen ways. This divide of activities is often a real pity but perhaps another story for another day we can explore.
Disruptive innovation is seen, partly by the way it has its effect on us and our lives. Many of us are always happy to discuss disruptive as long as it does not have an impact on ourselves, on the receiving end. As long as we are the ones doing the disrupting, or just wanting to show off the status as being early adopters or within the early majority of the innovation adoption curve, then we love disruption. Otherwise it is a very uncomfortable space many are not prepared to travel too.
I would suggest most people understand incremental as the first type or basic stage of innovation, especially in larger business organizations. For me large organizations give this incremental area far to much of a focus in their resources and efforts, to the detriment of other options which is partly due to their risk-averse cultures. I really do think though, they miss a trick, by failing often to ramp up to breakthrough or disruptive innovation, by not focusing on building a real capacity to strive for ‘distinctive innovation’ on a more consistent, even sustaining basis.
We should move out of the incremental trap far more and not continue to reinforce it as many do. Lets ‘name and shame’ the incrementalists and get them thinking more about distinctive innovation.
The missing value of distinctive
I think we miss something and it is a great big pity. Distinctive innovation is actually not just the middle ground, the passing through point towards breakthrough or disruptive but it is the inspirational point for all of us to rally around far more than we do. Inspirational is really important, it is a great motivating point if we can all achieve far more in our identity with something distinctive than just incremental. Whatever we work upon in innovation we should seek something distinctive as an outcome. I don’t regard the latest flavored yogurt, improvements to the speed of our computer processor power or a few more pixels on our I-phone as anything more than incremental. This is to keep pushing up the awareness curve to extract longer value from the brand or product. I’m looking at something that makes it stand out, to be distinctive.
A transforming point for all to all gather around
I think there is far more value in talking about this transforming type of innovation that I call distinctive. It is not a complete breakthrough, it is not something that really disrupts an industry but it enables a certain leadership status, a chance to build a reputation for your brand or service. Distinctive innovation gives you the ability to build and lead in either design, in solution resolution, in improving function etc., etc. We forget to talk about this type of innovation as we move from incremental to breakthrough.
I believe there is a clear consensus building point for all working on innovation would want to achieve, that is knowing they are delivering something distinctive. It is the new innovation neighbourhood we should all move towards and plan out. Lets find ways to get out of the overcrowded incremental slums.
Most people can’t jump or not even be able or allowed to think about breakthrough, as that is far too often “left to others” What they can really identify with is working on being more distinctive and less trapped in the basic, incremental mindset. What do you think? Would you want to be associated with something distinctive, I would.
image credit: frankwathcing.com
Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.