Incremental Innovation – The word ‘innovation’ has become a buzzword, synonymised with ground-breaking ideas that come to mind. For decades, innovation has played a vital role in the success of many different kinds of businesses ranging from manufacturing, service, and marketing industries. Innovation has caused an intense competition for market share that continues to escalate day by day.
Now in this era of technological advancements and modernization, innovation has gained tremendous momentum in developing and expanding the world with convenient, modern and high-tech gadgets that could have been an impossible feat for experts of the past. Evidently, this progress is where incremental innovation has been playing a part for generations.
What is Incremental Innovation?
Incremental innovation – as the name implies – is the process of making a series of small, incremental improvements or upgrades to existing products, services, processes or business models to make them better, cheaper and/or faster; hence, developing and sustaining their value in the evolving market (Nieminen, 2019; Muckersie, 2016; Rouse, 2015). Since this is not a popular topic, many may think that this type of innovation is insignificant as it does not show a palpable impact in the market as how commonly radical innovations are associated to.
Yet, what they are unaware of is that this innovation should not be underestimated. In fact, a majority (70%) of innovation implemented throughout all kinds of businesses is actually incremental (Nieminen, 2019; Muckersie, 2016). Technically, an organizational improvement project can be considered as an incremental innovation effort as long as the improvement creates value and/or have a sense of novelty to the products/services. So basically, it justifies how pretty much all businesses have done – even a little – incremental innovation in their organizations (Nieminen, 2019).
Executing such improvement or change is a crucial phase to strengthen the organization’s competitive position, gain more profits from demanding customers, and be able to quickly catch up with other rising competitors (What is incremental innovation?, 2020).While radical innovation really does the job in capturing customers’ attention with its new, state-of-the-art technologies, the slow and common incremental innovation is seen to be more effective and conveniently pragmatic. For instance, according to Bain and Co, over $5 trillion of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the past decade is seen to be connected to incremental change and improvements towards existing product and services (Chew, 2019). Here, it proves how incremental innovation is important.
Benefits of Incremental Innovation
Incremental change is the key source for low risk growth and successful innovation management must establish the balance between evolutionary and revolutionary initiatives that will grow and sustain the business for the short and long term.Here is a list of how incremental innovation can benefit the developers according to Procto.com;
- Minimize risk in developing organizational growth
- Apply or improve the current product/service core competencies and capabilities
- Simple technological modifications from existing platforms, products, or services
- Ability to react and meet customer needs identified from latest recommendations
- Lengthen the value and market life of the product/service, and at the same time, preserving the competitive position of the product/service in the market
- A predictable and common path/process in regards to cost
- Help existing industrial player to capitalize existing resources, processes and knowledge
- Able to redesign recent capabilities to meet arising demands and requirements
Examples of Incremental Innovation
Here are some of the classic examples of technologies that has been developed and improved through a lot of incremental innovation processes. They are;
After the launch of Gmail by Google in 2004, it gained a lot of attention and was declared as the best internet mail service. As it has limited features during its initial stages, it still did a very good job in delivering emails, but it did not stop there. It had a lot of improvements in order to provide smooth and user-friendly operations without annoying flash ads as well as abundance of interface improvements. Over time, Gmail provides better, faster and easier service with newer features released by Google, and then was listed out from ‘beta’ and into the “complete” list. Nevertheless, it is obvious that Gmail will have more incremental improvements in the future.
Gillette is also one of the most well-known products that has been undergoing a lot of incremental innovation. The product’s first appearance started of with only a single blade but after some time, it grew and evolved by having more blades and other new features that meet customers’ needs. For instance, new features such as heated razors, cooling technology, precision trimmer and even razors built with safety features for caregivers to assist those underprivileged who can’t shave themselves.
Ever since its launch in the 1880s, Coca Cola has become one of the most popular and successful leading brand in the beverage manufacturing industry, Even though the Coca Cola beverage has stayed in the business world for over a century now, it is not a exception to incremental innovation. Over the years, in order to follow trends and meet customer satisfaction, it has developed its own line of new and improved Coca Cola flavours such as Cherry Coke, Coke with Lime, Coca-Cola Life, Coca Cola Zero, Coca Cola Vanilla and more. The brand offers an array of variants under the segment of carbonated drink which caters for product differentiation which gratifies personalization and market diversity.
Television can also be seen to have evolved throughout the centuries. In the past, we only recognized television as the square, bulky and heavy electronic device that shows black and white – otherwise colourful for those that have evolved – moving images and transmits sound to the viewer. But now, evolution happened and television was changed and improved for many centuries until to its most modernized model; the flatscreen television that provides clear HD visual images and sound, made from high quality material and is lighter in weight.
Incremental Innovation vs. Radical Innovation
As mentioned, “Incremental Innovation” can be defined as a series of small, incremental changes or improvements done to existing business products, services, processes or business models. It is the most common innovation practised amongst all types of innovation (Nieminen, 2019; Muckersie, 2016; Rouse, 2015).
That said, “Radical Innovation” can be defined as the process of creating new markets by introducing and commercializing a completely new revolutionary technology or process. It is the most popular type of innovation, yet also the rarest of all (Muckersie, Incremental, breakthrough and radical innovation; Deciphering the differences, 2016).
Here are some different characteristics between incremental innovation and radical innovation according to Prasadi Lokuge (2015);
|Focal Point||Improvement of existing characteristics||Introduction of a whole new set of performance features|
(linear improvement of value acquired by the customer)
(with or without predecessor essential, non-linear improvement obtained by the customer)
|Technology||Exploits old existing technology created by the company||Explore new technology to be introduced by the company|
|Design||Little improvements are done but dominant design remain unchanged||The creation of new technology leads a wholly new dominant design|
|Paradigm Shift||Highly unlikely to lead to a paradigm shift||Highly likely to lead to a paradigm shift|
|Risk level||Low risk level||High risk level|
|Resources||Requires only the existing organization and qualifications||Requires education, new organization and sets of skills|
|Outcome||The result of a rational response or necessity for the company and/or customers||The result of chance or R&D policy, not a necessity to company or customers|
|Momentum||Driven by market pull
(important in the advanced stage technology)
|Driven by technology
(important in the early stage of technology)
|Goal||To achieve short-term economic goals||To achieve long-term economic goals|
Quick tip: Radical Innovation and Disruptive Innovation may sound very similar, but they actually have some differences.
According to Grace (2019), disruptive innovation occurs when new entrants introduces disruptive technologies to the market and challenges incumbent businesses. On the other hand, radical innovation occurs within existing organizations involving the introduction and successful commercialization of a completely new creation/technology. Radical innovation, somewhat and mostly, allows for the concurrent existence of both; the new creation/technology, and the preceding ones. Radical innovation does not jeopardize the existence of prevailing creation/technology, typically usurping or displacing the market sentiment, propensity and receptivity.
By: Aizatul Aisyah Binti Mohd Idris
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Incremental innovation vs. radical innovation. (2012). Retrieved from incrementalinnovation.com: http://www.incrementalinnovation.com/incremental-innovation/incremental-innovation-vs-radical-innovation
Lokuge, K. S. P. (2015). Agile innovation: Innovating with enterprise systems (Doctoral dissertation, Queensland University of Technology).
Muckersie, E. (2016, August 2). 4 examples of incremental innovation in action. Retrieved from Decidedly.com: https://decidedly.com/4-examples-incremental-innovation/
Muckersie, E. (2016, July 29). Incremental, breakthrough and radical innovation; Deciphering the differences. Retrieved from Decidedly.com: https://decidedly.com/incremental-breakthrough-radical-innovation/
Nieminen, J. (2019, December 2). Incremental innovation – The what, why, and how. Retrieved from Viima.com: https://www.viima.com/blog/incremental-innovation
Rouse, M. (2015, July). Incremental innovation. Retrieved from WhatIs,com – Tech target: https://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/incremental-innovation
What is incremental innovation & some interesting examples. (2019, April 9). Retrieved from Procto: https://www.procto.biz/incremental-innovation-examples
What is incremental innovation? (2020). Retrieved from Innolytics: https://innolytics-innovation.com/incremental-innovation/