Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Keeping innovation fresh – 1: everything was an innovation once

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 27, 2012

Innovation is not about what you are doing now. It is about what you could be doing tomorrow.

In a real sense this posting is about the difference between one-time innovation, as valuable as that can be, and serial innovation and the development of ongoing newness as a basis for ongoing marketplace strength. And I start this posting by repeating a thought I expressed in the posting title: everything was an innovation once.

That applies to the still new and fresh and to the tired and hackneyed alike. Every product, service, idea, implementation or approach out there or long since gone was a new innovation once. And if you stop with developing one innovation, with time it will simply become another standard option. And with more time and not necessarily a lot more it will move on from there to simply be seen as a tired old entry in the milling crowd, to the extent that it is considered at all.

Businesses patent their developments to retain exclusivity and to squeeze out unique value from them as long as possible, but patents expire, and even before that alternative products can be developed and marketed by others – and sometimes they offer sufficient newness and innovation so as to knock their older and still patent-protected competition out of the market.

Businesses keep formulas and production details as closely guarded trade secrets – the formula for Coca-Cola comes immediately to mind there, and baring a partial listing of its ingredients in the 1930’s that went semi-public that is still a closely guarded corporate secret. But competing products are developed anyway and the novelty and uniqueness of a trade secret protected innovation fades too. Just consider the numbers and volume of alternative colas on the market now. Yes, Coca-Cola still holds a significant market share for soft drinks sold, but they have plenty of competition and Coca-Cola has long ceased to be much of an innovation per se in its overall marketplace.

• The novelty and special value of any innovation fades with time. So businesses have to think and act as innovation factories if they are to remain cutting-edge, and if they are to gain and retain the market share and marketplace strength that offering unique value propositions provide.

Innovation and serial innovation can come from creative individuals who see the world for its potential and for what might be, and not just for what is already in front of them in it. Innovation can arise from the crowd and from the cumulative effort of many. Many businesses that seek to serially innovate use both approaches with a smaller number of team members coming up with initial concepts and implementation ideas, and perhaps many more working to flesh out the details to turn those starts into finished products. In this, true innovation can flow through entire, complex design and development processes and into production, marketing and distribution too. Apple Inc. comes immediately to mind in that context with Steve Jobs serving as their face of innovation for many years, even as many contributed to the flow of innovation coming out of that company.

This is the first installment in what at this time at least, I plan on developing as a short series. I am going to post a second installment in a few days looking at two very specific organizations: Xerox PARC and Menlo Park (and see Thomas Alva Edison.) I will go on from there to discuss developing an innovation pipeline, and one that does not dead-end, instead serving as a conduit to development and production. I also plan to discuss some of the issues involved in prioritizing what to develop and managing the rest, and with further thoughts on patents and trade secrets as due diligence strategies.

You can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 2 (and also see Business Strategy and Operations.)

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