What is innovation?

This has been a crazy week for me at work, leading a few campaigns with new products. This got me thinking about innovation. What is innovation? We all know that there are different levels of innovations, but I have never really come across a framework till this week.

There are three types of innovation.

  1. Breakthrough
  2. Expansionary
  3. Incremental

Breakthrough is something that is truly blazing new territories. To be honest, most of these brazen innovators remain unknown to the world. Most new companies / new products die in fairly early states without adequate support. Countless nameless mp3 players fit into this category for being breakthrough innovations in the portable music category.

Expansionary continues to expand the category. iPod. A few versions of iPod fit into this category as well – the video iPod expanded the portable category into different media.

Incremental. Some versions of iPod, such as the shuffle, are purely incremental. This is when companies start to think about how to bring in that extra consumer. This could be giving that extra gig to iPod storage. This could be lowering the price by removing some features.

This framework works for innovations outside new products as well. You could innovate the way you go to business. You could innovate what business you are in. Breakthrough can be simply a breakthrough for your own business. When mass merchandiser started carrying groceries, that was a breakthrough for their businesses. When they started experimenting with various store formats, that was expanding their business in being a grocer. It is incremental when they started optimizing their shelves on how much groceries versus general merchandises they would carry.


Photo Credit: Pierre Marcel


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