As if innovation weren’t tricky enough, the blanket term does nothing to help wannabe-innovators determine which approach they should be taking to improve innovation in their own organization. Below are 4 types of innovation, along with some explanations and examples that can help you unravel the best method for your business.
1. Breakthrough Innovation
Much like the name implies, breakthrough innovation is all about the lightbulb, the eureka moment, the sudden and dramatic alteration to a process or product that makes waves in the marketplace. It’s exemplary of how most people perceive the concept of innovating, but it’s also the hardest to force and manage. Think things like the telephone, or Virgin Galactic’s plans for civilian space travel. Breakthrough innovations are big, bold, and change the topography of their respective markets at a fundamental level.
2. Disruptive Innovation
Again, the name is implicative — disruptive innovations shake things up by making already great ideas even better. This kind of innovating can actually be managed quite effectively to bring repeatable results, and is thus can be the most beneficial for companies trying to innovate over and over. Products like the iPhone (or any Apple product, really), streaming video, and wireless internet access. They change the direction of the markets they sit in, often obliterating outdated predecessors.
3. Open Innovation
This one we’ve mentioned a few times before. Open innovation is the practice of merging internal assets and resources with those outside of the organization, in order to capitalize on both. While not identical at the core, crowdsourcing is a great example of open innovation, and a ton of companies take advantage of the unique opportunities openly innovating offers up. While it’s a tad risky and can be unwieldy to handle if done without a solid process in place, open innovation is responsible for stuff like robotic Legos, Google’s world mapping initiatives, and pretty much any Kickstarter success story.
4. Sustainable (or Incremental) Innovation
This type of innovation is something that most companies already do without much of a fuss. It involves making small improvements to products and services to meet transparent market needs — like making a cell phone touch screen or automating any paperwork-laden process. They allow companies to stay in line with, though not ahead of, competitors. On the one hand, a company that dominates the corner of their market might eventually reach a space where this is all they really need to do, or where these wee improvements are plenty to widen the gap between them and their chasers. On the other, though, not everyone can create something as accidentally sustainable as toilet paper, so it’s not the best plan for organizations seeking to grow and usurp.