What is ‘real’ Innovation?

I feel I need to write a post about something which has been bothering me for a while. It is about the (mis)use of the word innovation.

Many people talk about innovation and innovative new products. What I struggle to deal with is: most of what people label as innovative is really just an improvement on an existing product. What many organisations and media commentators think is so innovative is really just ‘features and benefits’.

Simon Sinek (author of Start With Why) claims that:

“Real innovation changes the course of industries – if not society.”

Examples include: the microwave, the fax machine, locomotion, the light bulb, iTunes, the internet, flight.

Do you agree?


Simon Sinek is the author of Start With Why. Listen to an interview with him on the Marketing Over Coffee podcast (iTunes link), in the episode titled Special Interview with Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why”. You can also view his keynote in this TED talk.

2 Replies to “What is ‘real’ Innovation?”

  1. First of all I hope your getting kick-backs from Simon Sinek. Second of all innovation is hard today. What is innovative? What is a new product for that matter? A totally new product is almost impossible if not impossible in this day and age. And I'm not talking about the jaded take and existing product and put a clock in it kind of thing or in this day and age take and existing product and put the internet into it.
    No product or invention exists in a vacuum, all innovation is to some degree reliant on past invention and discoveries. I would also argue that innovation is reliant on the society as much as inspiration. You mentioned the fax machine, well this is a case in point, the fax machine or Pantelegraph as it was known had been around since 1846 in fact Napoleon used one to transmit sketches of his conquests back to France. Yet it wasn't a revolution till the 1980's over 120 years after it had been invented….why? Well for one thing telephone infrastructure had to catch up with it then the cost of three key technologies had to drop through production and customer acceptance.
    So to innovate in the way that Simon Sinek wants too you have to innovate for your audience. There are myriad of examples of innovations that were clearly better than the alternatives not being taken up by the public.
    Betamax, The EV1, The Amiga, The Acorn. Edison may have been lauded for inventing the light-bulb (he didn't) but he almost cost the world Alternating Current which would have put the propagation of electricity around the world back 20 years. So where is the incentive to innovate when all the truly innovative products get looked over for better marketed safer ones? Take Xerox in the late 70's they too the brightest people from around the world, gave them jobs and told them Innovate!! So they did and out of Parcs came the GUI, computer networking, the Laser printer, the 32bit OS. And what happened? It got stolen by Apple and Microsoft.

  2. For all intent of businesses these days innovation is being defined as

    New to world products.
    New product lines.
    Product amendments.
    Product rebranding.
    As well as a few other definitions.

    A simple rebranding of one product may generate huge amounts of profits.

    Being inventive compared to innovative is where lines cross.

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