Archive for June, 2012

What Are the Different Types of Innovation?

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

My two previous blog entries described how to foster innovation, and described the evolution of web-based innovation. Today’s entry looks at the different types of innovations used.

Stevenson and Kaafarani describe 4 types of innovation:

  • Transformational : A revolutionary breakthrough which drastically changes society/industry
    • Example: The automobile, the lightbulb, the Internet
  • Category: A new application of ideas, products or services (rather than the creation of inventions)
    • Example: Automobile service stations, with manufacturing, virtual bookstores
  • Marketplace: Unique modifications of existing products and services and delivery methods
    • Example: Folding side view mirrors on cars, light bulb editing, PayPal
  • Operational: Finding efficiencies which save time, improve quality, increase productivity, improve work environments
    • Example: assembly-line automation, retail display racks, online inventory control

Clayton Christensen uses slightly different innovation descriptors:

  • Sustaining: Incremental innovations, turning good products into better ones.
    • Example: making a cleaning agent 10% stronger.
    • Categorized by results which are immediate, moderate — then taper off
  • Breakout: Significantly increase the level of play in an existing category.
    • Examples: Motorola RaZr became the best selling clamshell cell phone category through sleek, groundbreaking design
    • Results are rapid, strong, then quickly drop to a lower level
  • Disruptive: Renders existing solutions obsolete.
    • Example: The iPhone disrupted the smartphone market (in which Palm’s Treo had previously disrupted the clamshell market)
    • Results require a longer gestation period, but then lead to exponential growth

Christensen also describes the Innovator’s Dilemma: Listening to customers and investing in innovations to meet those customers’ articulated needs can sometimes lead to failure because customers typically only envision incremental (“sustaining”) innovations. And investors often do not have the patience for the long gestation period sometimes required to achieve disruptive innovations. (Leaders are rewarded for the quick, modest results and may be penalized for lack of short-term results).

The lesson: Be patient and disciplined.  Have a portfolio of innovations which includes quick wins and low hanging fruit. Recognize that innovative, disruptive thinking may not give your team immediate answers, but it gives you a common language and a common way to frame the problem so that you can reach consensus about a counter-intuitive course of action.

– Tony Parham

The Evolution of Web-based Innovation

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Yesterday’s blog post talked about how to foster innovation in an organization. Of course, web-based technologies have been an excellent tool to foster innovation. And the advances are often evolutionary: The benefits achieved from a first-generation static website lay the foundation for further e-business innovations, allowing the business to eventually achieve full cross functional ebusiness process integration. [Click on below chart to enlarge.]

And then, all of the above web evolution was categorized as being “just” Web 1.0 … laying the foundation for Web 2.0 (social media). The evolution of social media then resulted in a spectrum of social apps (including country-specific versions).

In the private sector, B2B (business-to-business) firms can get innovative ideas from B2C (business consumer) firms – and vice versa! Likewise, in the government sector, web-based technologies can be leveraged in multiple ways to foster e-government, including G2C, G2E, G2B and G2G (government to citizen, government to employee, government to business and government to government). In each of these e-gov categories, activities will typically include pushing information, two-way communications,  conducting transactions and/or enabling governance. Analogous to the e-business evolutionary stages described in the above chart, e-government progresses through its own stages of maturation:

Although web-based innovation in the government sector has not always progressed as quickly as in the private sector, the proliferation of web, mobile, social and tablet technologies throughout the private sector have heightened the appetite for innovative evolution at all levels of government.  A more rapid pace of change is on the horizon. Indeed, a new Accenture e-government survey points out that the biggest challenge for government is not catching up with the private sector – it’s giving digital citizens what they want by using the “digital channel” to improve value delivered to the public.  To meet this goal, e-government needs to effectively:

  • Identify which channels are best for which types of interactions.
  • Address citizens’ concerns regarding privacy and security of their personal data and transactions.
  • Decrease the perception that the user experience for some digital interactions are too complex.
  • Cost-effectively make (non-digital) “human contact” available when appropriate.

Tomorrow’s blog post will look at the different types of innovations which organizations leverage.

– Tony Parham

Propagating an Innovator’s DNA

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Innovation is the lifeblood of many organizations.  Mastery of the art of innovation can mean the difference between success or failure; relevance or obsolescence.

It is important to note that innovation is not reserved for geniuses or Mensa members. Any organization can foster a culture of innovation by applying key principles:


  • Create ways to recognize/reward innovators
    • Money is important, but it is not the only motivator. Provide recognition, informal praise, and a chance to make a difference.
    • Bring innovators together to acknowledge their accomplishments publicly and to foster creative interaction and stimulus.
  • Assess what your “world” will look like 2, 5, 10 or 10 years from now. Work backwards from there to define several areas of innovation / disruption which you can create now.
  • Provide leadership role modeling.
  • Allow experimentation and failure.
  • Propagate an Innovator’s DNA (the ability to make connections between seemingly unconnected things)
    • Example: A calligraphy class inspired Steve Jobs’ emphasis on typography in early Macintosh computers.
    • Here are some techniques to stimulate these connections.  (You can remember them with the acronym NOOQE, which I rhyme with “nuke.”):
      • Networking: Interact with people from different backgrounds and different ways of thinking .
      • One way to think outside the box is to talk to someone who plays in a different box.
      • Observing: Watching the world around you for surprising stimuli.
      • Questioning: Ask probing questions which impose or remove constraints.
      • Experimenting: Consciously try new things or go to new places.

Another key technique is to crowd-source innovation: Don’t rely on one person (or a small group of persons) to come up with the innovative ideas. Create (or leverage) mechanisms which will pull innovative ideas from large numbers of people.  Today’s various social media platforms give us a prefabricated set of tools to do this. A more elaborate example is found in Dell Computer’s IdeaStorm initiative which implemented a web-based methodology of gathering ideas, and then provided a voting mechanism which allowed the most impactful ideas to rise to the top. 17,000 ideas were gathered. Those ideas attracted 730,000 votes and 95,000 comments which helped Dell to identify which ideas were most useful. Those top 499 (representing 3% of the 17,000 submitted ideas) have subsequently been implemented.

In all of your innovative activity, it is helpful to remember that the process goes through a typical Innovation Lifecycle:

The most painful part of this lifecycle is often the Operational Gap (O-Gap): The pilot /prototype must be effectively operationalized to achieve the promised gains.

The lifecycle also reminds us that every innovation has a finite lifespan. After a number of optimization iterations, that innovation may have become the new status quo, and it may be time to obsolete or repeat the innovation process.  This means that the innovation process is never truly complete.  An  innovative organization is one which recognizes that it can never rest on its laurels.  Innovation must be an ongoing, lifetime commitment.

Tommorow’s blog post will look at the evolution of web-based innovation.

– Tony Parham

[Photo: John Udovich]