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Binomial is an innovation consulting firm helping clients be disruption-ready

What Does Innovation Really Mean?

Cai Yuqian
Cai Yuqian

April 3, 2020

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Photo by Diz Play on Unsplash

Innovation vs Invention

You’ve probably already seen the word “innovation” elsewhere today. What used to be a rare competitive advantage has now become an essential competency that businesses try to build. While chasing innovation is, in an unexaggerated way, depicted almost as a hype, people usually scratch their heads around what innovation really means and confuse innovation with invention.

Although the two terms have been used interchangeably in many places, innovation is intrinsically different from invention. An invention is the occurrence of an unprecedented idea. It’s usually scientific or technological. In contrast, Innovation is the first implementation of an idea which focuses on betterness and improvement. Innovation usually adds value to something that already exists, hence it is not just about science or technology. In order to truly turn a great invention into a world-changing innovation, other factors must be taken into account, such as customer focus, marketing, and strategy.

One of the greatest examples of innovation is the music ecosystem Apple created with iPod and iTunes. Serial entrepreneur Dr Michael Szycher explains it well in the Szycher’s Practical Handbook of Entrepreneurship and Innovation:

“What made the iPod and the music ecosystem innovative wasn’t that it was the first …. What made Apple innovative was that it combined all of these elements — design, ergonomics and ease of use — in a single device, and then tied it directly into a platform that effortlessly kept that device updated with music…Apple invented nothing. Its innovation was creating an easy-to-use ecosystem that unified music discovery, delivery and device. And, in the process, they revolutionised the music industry.”
Display of generations of iPods
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Neither inventing nor innovating is easy. However, for businesses, the process of innovation can be particularly complicated and involve cross-functional collaboration and efforts. So how might businesses innovate?

Famous Innovation Frameworks

Given the value that innovation can bring to businesses is so significant, there are well-established innovation frameworks that companies can learn from. Here, we will discuss two of them and hopefully, they can inspire some thoughts in you.

Desirability, feasibility and viability

The first framework is about seeing innovation as the intersection of desirability, feasibility and viability. Originating from IDEO as a practice to prototype new businesses, this framework focuses on the sweet spot of where innovation can arise.

  • Desirability: What’s the unique value proposition? Do people want this product or service? Does it make sense for them?
  • Viability: Can we build a sustainable business? What has to be true for this business to work? What are the costs? How will you pay for it?
  • Feasibility: Does this work? Is it functionally possible in the foreseeable future?
A hand holding a white circle light ring
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Disruptive Innovation

The second framework is the theory of Disruptive Innovation defined by the late leading business thinker Clayton Christensen. In his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton differentiates disruptive innovation with incremental innovation and states that disruptive innovation is much more challenging.

“It is a process by which a product or service initially takes root in simple applications at the bottom of a market — typically by being less expensive and more accessible — and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors.” —

Both incremental and disruptive innovation are important and need to be aligned with a company’s strategy. Achieving disruptive innovation not only requires R&D investment and out-of-the-box thinking, but also a corporate culture where experiments are encouraged and leadership is committed.

Binomial’s Take on Innovation

The idea that innovation is only about improving your products and services is misleading. In fact, innovation can encompass every aspect of your business, and it’s related to customers, competition, and macro environment). Our own Innovation Framework and Innovation Journey Map approach to innovation focuses on the three forces to figure out where companies can start in their innovation process.

Binomial’s Innovation Framework

Binomial's innovation framework
Binomial’s Innovation Framework

A holistic view of your business is critical when it comes to innovation, that’s why our innovation framework lays out the strategic interplay of the different parties: your brand (products and services), competitors and alternatives, customers’ existing and emerging needs, and finally disruption from start-ups and other companies. Almost every independent sub-part of each circle represents an angle where a business can focus and innovate.

Applicable to companies in any stage of growth, we aim for this framework to provide a comprehensive and practical guide on identifying the strengths and weaknesses of a business, together with what can be done about them.

We know how complicated it can get when it comes to innovation, and after getting numerous requests for help, we started Ampersand, an accelerator programme (for smaller companies) and innovation lab (for larger companies), to help them reap the benefits of the framework. Ultimately, we want our innovation framework to help companies combine entrepreneurial audacity and corporate excellence, so founders and leaders can strengthen fundamentals and chart sustainable growth.

An open road stretching forward
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
Smart innovators frame their ideas to stress the ways in which a new concept is compatible with the existing market landscape, and their company’s place in that marketplace.

At the end of the day, no matter what kind of innovation a company is striving to achieve, it has to be aligned with its mission and vision, as well as its long-term strategies. Business leaders need to be aware that innovation is not a fad and start to think about how they can stay ahead of the curve when disruption is happening with increased frequency.

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