idea business concept

Businesses are desperate for innovation like Hollywood is desperate for beauty, both act like they already have it, both fear they don’t have enough, and both try to get more by injecting poisons directly into their faces. Ok, my analogy may need some work.

But, there is a real truth in this comparison. “Beauty” can be redefined and expanded to become more inclusive. That’s a great thing. We in the business community have actually done the same thing with the word “innovation”. Have a creative idea? It’s an innovation! Solved a problem in a clever way? That’s innovative! The word has become diluted, making it harder to identify the things that are truly innovative. Combine that with studies that show that only 9% of companies are truly innovating and you can see that we have a disconnect.

What we have is a lack of specificity. Let’s use Clayton Christensen’s work as a starting point. Here’s a brief summary:

  • Disruptive Innovation
    • New products or business models that apply a different set of values and alter the competitive landscape by creating a new market and eventually altering existing markets.
  • Sustaining Innovation
    • An innovation that does not affect existing markets. There are two types:
      • Evolutionary Innovation
        • An innovation that improves a product in a way that customers are expecting.
      • Revolutionary Innovation
        • An innovation that is unexpected, but nevertheless does not affect existing markets.
Disruptive innovations are the PC’s and the automobiles of the world, inventions that have so much impact that they create or alter markets. I think that is what many companies think they are looking for when they launch innovation seeking initiatives. If your company needs something of that magnitude, then you can’t afford to be vague.

Usually though, a company is served well enough by a sustaining innovation. Maybe for now, you would be overjoyed to find a solution to a nagging business problem. There are well-tested ways to increase the odds of finding one. Understanding what you’re looking for and being specific about it is essential. Businesses of today are too lean to do otherwise.