You Cannot Always Invent Your Way to Innovation

I’d like to start today with a quote from a NASA article in Fast Company – “But sometimes the better part of innovation, is not invention but effectiveness.”

I’ve detailed my views before on how invention is not the same thing as innovation, but to build upon them and the quote above – sometimes progress or innovation is achieved by taking value out of a product or service. Southwest Airlines created innovation not by giving passengers more food, more legroom or more options, but fewer. Apple succeeded with the iPod, not by providing more capacity or more features, but by making the features they provided more beneficial than the competition.

People ultimately do not care whether a product or service is better at the tasks it is asked to perform, but whether it more effectively meets their needs. These are not the same thing, and in fact make success far more difficult.

A sponge may clean better than all other sponges at absorbing liquids, but if to do so it has to smell like a wet troll, it is ultimately not going to be the sponge most effective at meeting customers needs (or likely to make repeat visits to their shopping baskets). Success becomes more difficult because customers don’t always surface their needs. Chances are your market research wouldn’t have surfaced their need for a sponge not to smell like a wet troll. But if succeeding becomes more difficult when success is not purely a technology challenge, then this is a good thing for the truly committed, because difficulty creates opportunity.

So during the product development process, don’t ask yourself “How can we make X do Y better than the competition?”. Instead focus people’s attention on asking “How can we better meet our customers’ needs?”. If you focus on the second question, the competition becomes almost irrelevant, and you will become better at creating products or services that are more likely to be valuable instead of merely useful, and that is where true innovation lies.

What do you think?

About Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a Director of Design Thinking, Innovation and Transformation at Oracle, a popular innovation speaker, workshop leader, and creator of The Change Planning Toolkit™. He is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons and Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.
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2 Responses to You Cannot Always Invent Your Way to Innovation

  1. Branden, I like your reference to the wet sponge. I agree invention is not the same as innovation. To me, the true measure of an innovation is commercial success! By effectively meeting the needs of the user/consumer better than alternatives, market adoption will be greater. As you highlight in this post, simplicity is often the vehicle to increased adoption. Monetary exchange is not necessarily the criteria of a commercial success. In summary: Only when adoption by a significant percentage of a need-based user population is achieved, an invention can be labeled an innovation.

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