Small Steps to Big Change

18 November 10

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Ideal Smartphone Application

29 October 10

Adapted from

Here at futurethink, we’ve been researching various smartphone applications to feature in our newest resource list on mobile tools that can help support your innovation strategy. These applications focus on features ranging from capturing ideas on the go, connecting and collaborating with various project members, to cloud storage systems, and brainstorming tools. This got us thinking; what would our ideal innovation focused smartphone application look like? While applications that try to be everything for everyone are generally doomed to mediocrity, if we had unlimited resources to design the ideal innovation application, here is where we would start.

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Climate Control: Netflix on Corporate Culture & Innovation

27 August 10

“Our model is to increase employee freedom as we grow, rather than limit it, to continue to attract and nourish innovative people, so we have a better chance of long-term continued success.”

— Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

To become more innovative, companies need to cultivate the key elements necessary for innovation— one of which is an innovation-friendly culture. To build a corporate climate that truly fosters innovation, you must be able to encourage smart risks and energize your workforce. Netflix, one of Fortune Magazine’s 100 fastest growing companies of 2010, does exactly this by promoting a culture of freedom and responsibility from the top down. The company’s commitment to these principles goes far beyond just a values statement chiseled in marble.

• Freedom — Netflix does not have a vacation policy and doesn’t track vacation time. Employees may take as many vacation days as they feel they need. When it comes to expenses and business travel, the only rule is to “act in Netflix’s best interests.”

• You Have to Believe — Netflix also requires that all employees take responsibility for contributing to the company’s success. High performers are substantially rewarded and the merely adequate are quickly let go.

Sound harsh? According to Hastings, “We need a culture that supports rapid innovation and excellent execution. Both are required for continuous growth. There is tension between these two goals: between creativity and discipline.”

How has balancing creativity and discipline paid off for Netflix? Read the rest of this entry »

“What’s In Your Wallet?” May Be A Thing of The Past

13 August 10

With an impressive array of business, credit, metro, and various loyalty cards bursting out of our expanding wallets, a move to digitize plastic cards may come as a pleasant reprieve to many. Earlier this month, Bloomberg uncovered a planned venture between AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile to develop a smartphone based payment system designed to compete directly with credit card companies. Using a technology known as NFC (Near Field Communication) embedded into mobile phones; payments would be made by holding the smartphone over a special reader that can communicate with the phone. This method differs from RFID technology, which doesn’t allow two-way communication between devices that would, say, allow for a password to be entered before a payment can be completed.  While Visa and MasterCard have invested in their own mobile payment systems, the new venture, which includes Discover Financial Network and Barclays, will place phone carriers and smartphones at the center of a new financial network. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking Outward For Innovative Solutions

20 July 10


Whether you are looking for innovations in technological developments or better business processes, seeking help outside of your organization in the form of contests has proven to be an effective way to discover new and novel ideas. Public challenges and contests have enjoyed a long history, from the Longitude Prize offered by the British government in the 18th century to persons who could discover a way to accurately measure Longitude, to the Netflix Prize which sought to improve the accuracy of user rating predictions. More recent challenges have come from GE, and NASA, which are both looking for innovations outside of their organizations.

GE recently launched a $200 Million open innovation challenge in which the company is calling on businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students to come up with ideas on how to improve the next generation power grid.  The contest focuses on three categories for submission: Creating an intelligent grid to better manage the volatile output of renewable energy sources, improving grid efficiency by anticipating and monitoring demand, and developing technologies that help homeowners use less energy in order to reduce the imbalance between energy supply and demand that can currently cause power production and distribution to short-circuit. GE and its partners have pledged to invest the prize money globally into promising startups and ideas, while a panel of judges will pick five winners and award each a $100,000 prize “to acknowledge these entries as examples of outstanding entrepreneurship and innovation”.

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Using Innovation Centers To Generate New Product Ideas

1 July 10

Innovation Centers are popping up around the world. These facilities bring together experts in different fields around a common goal: new product ideation and experimentation. Some of these centers have become enormously successful breeding grounds for new product ideas. These successes, along with the growing awareness of the need to innovate to stay relevant, are driving many organizations to invest tens of millions into these centers. Examples of innovation centers can be found in many different fields.

MIT’s Media Lab, a department within the schools Architecture and Planning division, has been actively pumping out new product ideas since 1985. The Lab is home to product designers, nanotechnologists, data-visualization experts, industry researchers, and pioneers of computer interface. These future minded individuals work side by side to create technology that will enhance the human experience. The Lab produces approximately 20 new patents per year, and is responsible for many commonly known products including computerized prosthetics, Guitar Hero, and the Amazon Kindle eBook reader screen display. Read the rest of this entry »