New doesn’t equal innovation

misunderstanding innovation

Misunderstanding innovation

Just because something is new doesn’t mean it should be touted as an innovation.

What’s an innovation and what isn’t?

Normally, people believe that just because they’ve never seen or heard about something that it’s new, and therefore innovative. In their heads, because it’s new, it also means that it will succeed. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way. It is this type of misunderstanding, and others such as innovation only being about technology, that creates all types of headaches for those of us who help others innovate…

Innovation is a buzzword, but to some of us who use the word know that it holds value. We can tell you what is and isn’t an innovation. More than anything, we can tell you what isn’t: a new color, a change in your fonts, a new flavor, more horsepower, more processor speed, bigger screen, more pixels, etc.

Last year there was article on the WSJ where the parent company of Pop-Tarts laid claim that they had innovated because they had created a new flavor of Pop-Tarts. And now, Domino’s Pizza claims that one of its new products is innovative: breaded chicken crust.

These are examples of something new being mistaken for an innovation…

So, how do we distinguish new from innovation?

Only true innovations drive the world forward

Analyst Horace Dediu has a smart breakdown of what is an innovation and what isn’t:

  • Novelty: Something new
  • Creation: Something new and valuable
  • Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
  • Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful

And he provides some examples of the differences between them:

  • Novelties: The choice of Gold as a color for the iPhone; the naming of a version of Android as “Kit Kat”; coining a new word.
  • Creations: The fall collection of a fashion designer; a new movie; a blog post.
  • Inventions: Anything described by a patent; The secret formula for Coca Cola.
  • Innovations: The iPhone pricing model; Google’s revenue model; The Ford production system; Wal-Mart’s store design; Amazon’s logistics.

To Dediu’s criteria for innovation I would add that it be meaningful, not just useful. And, as Dediu explains, when companies come out with “innovations” that are actually novelties, economic growth is slowed. Mad copying ensues, and more crap is created.

Another point worth adding is that quite frankly, customers don’t care if you’re innovative or not. The average Joe, that doesn’t live inside the tech bubble, doesn’t buy something because it is innovative. Heck they don’t even use the word at all!

What’s a good sign that you are on the path to innovation? Innovation is hard and messy, it requires persistent experimentation and a willingness to take giant leaps forwards… or sideways… or even backwards. Not more of the same…

Finally, I believe that the right way to think about innovation is this: how are we transforming people? How are we helping them be innovative in their life?

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