What is Innovation and How do you think about it?

In one of the many recent discussions, someone asked me What is innovation and how do you think about it? I paused, reflected, and responded and then realized that it is a good post.

It is about the Art of the Possible…

Although the term originates from politics where it is about finding that ideological middle ground (see here for details), it can be viewed in a different context. It is really an art of finding out what is possible and minimizing the use and acceptance of everything that is impossible.

I first learned about innovation when my teachers in school taught me the difference between Invention and Discovery in the context of science. It was then very important to clearly differentiate these two things to get the right grades. In business it so seems that it is about who finds it first, identifies ways to derive consumer benefit, goes through Patents & Trademarks, finds consumer acceptance, and figures out monetary value exchange.

  1. Foundational Innovations enable an ecosystem: By this, I refer to things like Electricity (P.S. Note that I combined discovery and invention here together). These inventions change the humanity for good. They are typically born out of a lot of research and are things that only geniuses like Michael Faraday (who discovered electricity) can make it happen. These innovations leave others to imagine the possibility.

  2. Disruptive Innovations occur at the intersection of two ecosystems: By this, I refer to the iPods and the iPhones. These are disruptions that brought together multiple ecosystems – in the case of iPod it was music, storage, and electronics and iPhone grew that with the convergence of telecommunication, photos, and many other things into the same device. The same can be said of the light bulb invented by Thomas Edison or a Uber, or a Tesla. They all converge different ecosystems to actually create the possibility. iPhone became a potent force because it not only converged multiple ecosystems but helped create a new one.

  3. All innovations solve a consumer problem (or) show a new possibility: Imagine electricity without the bulb. It would have remained a mere scientific marvel. Imagine iPods and iPhones that weren’t mobile, or imagine Uber that still called a taxi all of that wouldn’t have had the same disruptive impact. Similarly, imagine entire Apple without the App store and app developer ecosystem – Uber wouldn’t have happened at all and Facebook wouldn’t be where it is today.

  4. All innovations aren’t that complex: Now if you are thinking OMG! does everything has to be this complex, then the answer is no. The most simplest of all of this is the company called Squatty Potty.  They took a serious problem that many consumers face but are embarrassed to talk about, took the best of the eastern world rest room designs and merged it with the convenience of western world toilet designs. For years, consumers used old school stools, trash cans, and others to get to the similar outcomes but Squatty Potty just solved that problem in a simple way.

Now circling back to the entire question of “What is Innovation?” It is finding the Art of the Possible for a consumer problem. The disruptive nature of it is determined by if it can create an ecosystem, activate others to build on the ecosystem, enable new possibilities or solve a consumer problem. It is at this point that IP/Patents, Business Models, Commercialization, and others take over!

Now a question back to you – What is innovation and how do you think about it?


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