7 variations on the innovation theme

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7 variations on the innovation theme

Innovation takes place in a number of different ways.  The common misconception is that innovation is simply involved in developing new products.  This is simply not true.  Below are a few variations on the innovation theme, some product related, some process related, some relate to either.

Continuous and discontinuous change

The desire to create, at least for a time, an advantage through offering something no one else can leads businesses to investigate not only innovations which deploy existing technological knowledge but also those which offer opportunities for changing the rules of the game – think Uber, Airbnb.

Such transformations happen relatively often.  They can be triggered by technological development and when they are it is generally the new entrant firms which make a success of riding the new wave.

Finally – and most worrying – the source of the new technology which destabilises am industry often comes from outside of the industry.  It is therefore important to beat your competitors without trying to beat them.

Building business through innovation

It is possible to think of products and processes as having life cycles, in which they are seen to go through some form of development, from being new, through development and maturity towards a notional end point where a new generation emerges.  Different stages in this life cycle imply different emphasis on innovation; for example, early phases may be characterised by rapid and frequent product innovation, with a proliferation of variety.  Later stages might be characterised by a relatively stable product concept with only incremental change, and with more emphasis on process innovation, concerned mainly with cost reduction.

Architecture and component innovation

Another important concept is the idea of new products as stand-alone elements, or as components in broader systems or architectures.  Innovation at the integrated system level usually takes place less frequently than at component level, and has greater impact.

Technology fusion

A variation on this theme comes in the field of technology fusion, where different technological streams converge, such that products which used to have a discrete identity begin to merge into new architectures.

Incremental innovation

Whilst emphasis is often placed on the dramatic, radical form of innovation, it is important not to neglect the potential of sustained incremental change.  Continuous improvement of this kind has received considerable attention as part of the ‘total quality management’ movement found originally in Japanese manufacturing.

Robust design

The ability to modify and develop a basic design has considerable value; much depends on being able to establish a strong basic platform which can be extended.  Think here, car manufacturing.  Volkswagen utilise a strong basic platform from which they design a number of cars, for example the Golf platform is used in the VW Golf, VW Tiguan, Seat Leon, and Skoda.

Intangible innovation

One last point to make is that innovation involves deployment of knowledge – but this is not always embodied in a product or a piece of equipment.  We associate innovation with physical change, but much change is of a less tangible nature, for example in the development of new methods or techniques.


With all innovation it is often important to considered an external viewpoint, either to help inspire innovation or to sense check new ideas and developments.  If your business could benefit from innovation developments, please contact us to see how we can help grow your business through innovation.

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