The home-run, game-changer or killer-app product gets all the headlines, but your overall portfolio may need to be more diverse to support long term and steady business results. In order to do this, we need to split innovation into 2 areas:
1. Revolutionary Innovation such as Apple’s iPod
2. Evolutionary Innovation such as continuous improvement (Kai-zen) or similarly, my own FPS Strategy for Innovation
Revolutionary Innovation concerns breakthrough concepts, out-of-the-box ideas, and paradigm changes. These types of innovations are rare but they do occur given the right environment. Much as been written about the success of 3M for example with the Post-it or Masking Tape products. Organizations may require a formal internal process for generating Revolutionary Innovation such as 3M has. Employees are given the chance to experiment and develop ideas as part of their regular jobs – and to take some risks. Management is there it guide and listen. For more on internal processes to sustain innovation, see a paper called ‘Innovate or Die: Is that a Fact?‘.
Evolutionary Innovation concerns incremental product or process improvements. These are the small scale ideas that together can sustain a company for many years. I think Toyota is a good example of this. The philosophy of continuous improvement (Kai-zen) is about active problem solving. They use this philosophy in manufacturing and product design. There’s nothing glamorous about their work n general but as a whole, you can see the continuous and consistent improvements in their product design and processes. The hybrid technology which Toyota helped pioneer is however an example of Revolutionary Innovation so one company can do and probably should do both!