Often I think we divide innovations into two "camps". The first camp is "safe" innovation, which is incremental (think adding pine fresh scent to your favorite laundry soap). This innovation is just a "turn of the screw" and not a risky innovation, which will act more as a product extension. The second camp is "radical" innovation, which introduces an entirely new product to the market.
This is a somewhat simplistic analogy, but it provides the strawman necessary to discuss what I think should be the goal in most innovation - avoid the truly radical innovations unless your time horizons are very long, and focus on the innovations that move beyond merely incremental.
Take for example the Segue. Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway, is a certifiable genius. I can remember the hubbub surrounding the release of the Segway. It is clearly an incredible new product and may over time change the way some people travel. However, this potentially radical innovation overlooked one item - infrastructure that is already in place. The Segway can't go on the highways, and most cities and towns quickly banned it from the sidewalks. So the average person can't use a Segway to commute. Usually you'll see them being used by airport security or by people at amusement parks who have to traverse long distances. The Segway was simply too "new" and violated too many existing infrastructures. The totally electric car failed in a similar way. In 1993, California passed a law stating that by 2001 at least 3% of all vehicles sold in California must be zero emission vehicles. The problem was that no one was willing to build the charging stations. While the concept and the idea were great, the changes required to the infrastructure were too large for people to take the risk.
Truly radical innovations often take a long time to filter into the mainstream, while simple incremental innovations often are just product lifecycle extenders. It seems the truly valuable innovations belong somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
My favorite example of a "mid-point" innovation is the Swiffer. The Swiffer has the convenience of a broom, in that you can store it anywhere, with the cleaning power of a mop, with little of the muss and fuss. The Swiffer replaced two products - a broom and a mop, with less headache and less overhead for the purchaser. No stooping to rinse out a mop head, no storing a wet, filthy mop. All that with greater cleaning power than a broom. The Swiffer takes a solution that people were familiar with, and made it significantly better, but not radically better. The radical solution would be to have a wet vac that sprayed water and then absorbed it, and flushed itself into the waste water drains.
The Swiffer also presents a classic Geoffrey Moore solution in that it is a "whole" product solution. Mops definitely clean the floor, but there's a lot of rinsing and wringing involved, and an issue of storage. The Swiffer provides the same cleaning benefits, with better storage and usage benefits. It is a classic Geoffrey Moore solution as well in that it targets the early majority set of purchasers. A Mom or Dad who buys the Swiffer isn't investing in new technology and can quickly use the Swiffer. There's no risk of early adoption.
So, for a successful "mid-point" innovation to succeed, I'm stipulating it must achieve at least these three criteria:
- Be "new enough" to be different without being "radical"
- Be a "whole product" solution - that is, provide a complete solution where the existing offering is only a partial solution
- Target the early majority. Rather than require the purchaser to take risks, bring the product to market in a way that reduces risks to acquire and use
The "mid-point" innovation provides enough new capabilities with a low enough risk threshold to attract a broad market and great returns, while avoiding the risks and timeframes associated with the truly "radical" innovations, and provides more reveue and profit than a traditional product extension product or service innovation. In this case, I'm going to argue that the best place to be is right in the middle.