What is innovation?
One of my best friends is Director of Innovation for Pepsi. His team’s job is to develop and design “innovative” products and equipment for the beverage and equipment industry. The challenge is the products he designs are not just “new”; they must be innovative. What’s the difference?

If Rock and Roll was an innovative and new type of music, disco was a brief lull in the music industry. When the iPhone came out, it combined aspects of our lives that until that point were separate: your music, the internet and your cell phone. It wasn’t the first touch screen. It wasn’t the first cell phone. It was not the first MP3 player. However, those features combined into a revolutionary mobile device, and the industry has not been the same since. That was innovation!

The iPad was not the first tablet computer, but it was designed in a way that created a new industry. Contrast that with the iPad mini or the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. These are merely “spec changes” to the original product. Size change. Faster processor. Retina display. Every year new models come out, but those models are not innovative. In this “disco era” of consumer electronics, how do you innovate?

 Define the Market

Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” If he could have genetically designed faster horses, people would have bought them.  Cars changed the transportation industry and defined new markets (automobiles) and manufacturing (assembly line). True innovation creates new markets that people don’t even know are possible. 


Innovation combines products or services that were previously separate. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The iPhone was a classic example of this statement. Jony Ive and Craig Federighi of Apple collaborated on the recent iOS 7 release, iPhone 5C and flagship 5S. Innovation is not done in a vacuum. Product design and development firms sometimes take individual successful parts and combine them for an innovative creation.


Many companies will say they are focused on innovation. Teams and groups will be formed to insure products and processes are innovative. The Post-It by 3M was a novel invention that was long in the making and developed completely by accident. Stainless steel, Super Glue, Teflon and Play Doh were all developed by accident.


Innovation must improve the quality of life. People will subscribe to an idea, product or concept that helps them. Adjusting the price is not innovation and will lead to short term gains (until someone else lowers their price more). Putting a larger engine in a Corvette is not innovation. Designing a new way to move people that improves the environment is innovation.

“Innovative things must be new, but new things need not be innovative”, says Robin Hanson (Economics Professor – George Mason University). Success in innovation cannot be forced. Apple was on a treadmill of innovation for years. When Steve Jobs died, that cadence was broken. Let us not so quickly label new devices or features as innovative.

 Scientifically Speaking, of course.

 Next Week: Pinterest for Business