Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission > Blog > News & Events > Blog > Innovation Elixer: Part 1

Innovation Elixer: Part 1

October 31, 2013 > Posted in Blog, News & Events

By Patrick Stroh

All companies want to be known as innovators and want employees who are innovative.

But what exactly does it mean to be innovative? Do you need grandiose thinking and a Ph.D. in molecular engineering? No, just about anyone can be “innovative” in the right environment and with the right direction.

I often categorize innovation into three buckets, and here I use automobiles as examples:

  1. Incremental Innovation: This includes just about any new features that are put in most cars, such as GPS and antilock brakes.
  2. Distinctive Innovation: Something only one or two cars have for a time, and then those features become standard. Examples would be a backup camera or automatic sensor braking.
  3. Breakthrough Innovation: Something that is brand new to the market — a game-changer. An example would be a driverless car, such as what Google is making.

Some purists would argue that breakthrough innovations are the only true innovations. I disagree. Why limit innovation to just the big ideas?

Smaller ideas and innovations can add up in a hurry, more people can be involved in them, and they are often faster to implement. So let’s not waste time nitpicking what is and is not innovation, and lets spend the time actually innovating!

Having three buckets of innovation provides a balanced portfolio within your company. You probably have a portfolio of products that includes new products, mature products, products in decline, etc. So it makes sense to have varied degrees of innovation that support and improve your business’s strategy.

Let’s think of this in baseball terms. You’re not going to homer every time you step up to the plate, right? You’re also going to hit singles, doubles and triples.

Innovation is the same. You hit singles with incremental projects, doubles and triples with distinctive programs, and homers with breakthrough ideas.

In business you may not be ready for a breakthrough product. Maybe you need some incremental innovation on existing programs. Maybe you are having a hard time differentiating your offering from competitors and you need some distinctive advances.

One of the best ways to have continuous and consistent innovation success is to have an innovation program and mindset that solicits, evaluates and implements a blend of innovation projects and ideas – incremental, distinctive and breakthrough.

In the next three articles, we’ll explore each of these buckets.