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Incremental or radical: how companies get product innovation right



When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

That English proverb suggests that if someone has only a limited number of tools, instruments, or skills to resolve problems, they may be used in situations where they are not meant to be used.

If a business is facing a problem, they have to correctly identify it before they come up with innovative ideas as their solution. To make sure that the solution can address the issue and bring in results, a company that operates like a tool factory should streamline its innovation process.

Incremental innovation

For instance, if a customer wants to use a screw to fix a picture on the wall, and the current tool which they own, the hammer, is not suitable for this. With this, the  may recommend and develop a better version of their already existing product.

The output could be a bigger hammer that would allow the customer to get the screw into the wall. This kind of innovation is called incremental innovation, which occurs when a company’s existing products or services have been upgraded to meet customer needs or further compete in the market.

For example, Apple Inc. originally created a touchscreen tablet, but now it combines the functions of an iPod, a cell phone, and an internet communication device.

Radical innovation

If the tool factory wants to build an innovation culture within the organization,   invests in R&D and in intellectual resources and then comes up with something new.   This kind of innovation is called radical innovation, which refers to replacing existing products or services with new ones that have never been done before. can be considered as a radical innovator since it managed to revolutionize book selling and introduced the portable wireless electronic reading device now popularly known as Kindle.

If the product innovation is successful and the customer buys  the screwdriver and is able to fix their problem, this means that the tool factory is able to:
  • grow as they offer solutions for two types of issues
  • remain profitable since the customers who already have a hammer can now buy a screwdriver too
  • differentiate themselves from the other factories because they are offering something that competitors don’t.

Why innovation fails

However, a product innovation like the screwdriver could fail for many reasons.

One reason is innovation does not solve a customer’s problem all the time. For example, if the initial research was not correctly done, it could be possible that the customer needed only duct tape to put the picture on the wall. It may have nothing to do with the screwdriver because the customer does not have a screw.

Moreover, innovation may take too long to be launched in the market so the customer may look for other possible solutions. For instance, if the customer does not have the necessary tool to put the picture on the wall, they might buy a photo album and use it for all their other pictures in the future.

Another reason why ideas may fail is they are underfunded or poorly launched. If the company does not have the right marketing strategy for the screwdriver, people won’t hear about it and therefore, won’t be able to use it.

The execution of ideas requires time and resources too. The manufacturing machines used to develop the screwdriver are expensive. It takes a lot of time for employees to learn the manufacturing process and how to use the machines.

An iconic example of innovation failure was the Galaxy Foldable Phone by Samsung, which meant to offer large screens on small space to the customers. However, when the device is folded, customers don’t find it comfortable to carry. It is also deemed too fragile. Because of this, the production of the device lasted for only a few months and then it was halted.

Making innovation work    

If businesses want to make product innovation work, they have to do their research properly and understand what customers actually need. Businesses must also allocate enough resources to develop new types of instruments.

If there is a new product, businesses must develop and test product prototypes first and identify all the possible problems that may come with it. It is also important to invest in introducing a new product to customers and educating them on how to use it. The most important thing is not to screw up, but to nail it!

If you would like to learn more about the best practices for an innovation-based business culture and establish an efficient organizational innovation system, check out TKI’s Certified Innovation Performance Professional course.
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