Small Steps to Big Change

The Power of Incremental Innovation

Disruptive innovation is exciting. Big breakthroughs like Netflix, Zipcar, and the iPad, generate big headlines. However, it’s important to recognize that many of the most profitable innovations aren’t disruptive at all.

A classic example of non-disruptive innovation is the addition of wheels to suitcases. Many thousands of years after both the suitcase and wheels were invented, the two products were combined in 1970 to make life easier for travelers. This small, incremental change made a big difference and gave suitcase companies a way to differentiate themselves. Incremental innovation is defined as improving, reconfiguring, or building upon a form or technology that already exists. By focusing on incremental innovation, companies can align existing offerings with current trends, expand on what they already do well, and continuously create value.

Many companies practice incremental innovation. Let’s take a look at a few recent examples that demonstrate the value of this approach:

  • Google Instant — Just when you thought the browsing experience couldn’t get any better, Google launches their new search feature Google Instant. This new predictive feature displays results as soon as you start typing. Google estimates that this will save users approximately 2-5 seconds per search. The feature has been so popular that it has inspired programmers to create their own versions, including YouTube instant and Yahoo’s new Rich Search Assist.
  • Levi’s Curve ID — There are many offerings in the jeans market, ranging in all shapes and sizes. However, the range of different style names and sizes have not made the shopping experience easier for women. Levi’s solution to this problem is Curve ID, a global women’s denim line made to fit a woman’s shape, not a size number. The customized fit system is based on the waist-to-hip ratio and comes in three shapes: Slight Curve, Demi Curve, and Bold Curve.
  • Scott Natural’s Tube-Free Toilet paper — These previous examples of incremental innovation include products that were enhanced by adding a feature. But you can also enhance incrementally by taking away unnecessary elements of a product — as Kimberly-Clark accomplished with their new tubeless toilet paper. By removing the tube, they are able to make a strong environmentally friendly product claim, as well as reduce their own materials costs. This is an incremental innovation everyone can get behind.

Are you exploring incremental additions or subtractions of functions or parts of your current products that could add enormous value? Share with us your experiences with incremental innovation below.


One Response to Small Steps to Big Change

  1. Alex Poppe says:

    Incremental innovation can be customer driven. Watching how real people use products/services in real time unlocks alot of potential. While teaching in Kiev I noticed that adults never follow directions. I think it is a cultural bias stemming from a general disregard for an overly controlling political state, as was their historical experience. I redesigned a gmae borad meant to assess oral language skills so directions became part of the game. Watching how people absorb and learn is useful trainging for mining customer centered insights

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