Innovation axes in IT…

I was reading an article recently that suggested there are basically 4 types of innovation that a company might seek to undertake:

  1. Product innovation, whereby a new product or service is brought to market or a current one improved;
  2. Process innovation, whereby processes and procedures are modified to make them more efficient
  3. Positioning innovation, whereby a product or service stays fundamentally the same but is sold to a different market or as a different proposition
  4. Paradigm innovation, whereby an innovation is effectively disruptive and facilitates some form of fundamental change

This is an interesting way of looking at the possible innovations available, especially since it is likely that one company might be pursuing more than one of these approaches at the same time. On reflection, however, I found it more interesting to consider where one type of innovation is purported to be another type. It is clear that this happens in the IT industry on a regular basis. The release of Windows 7 is an example, whereby the change is quite clearly a Product innovation in that it has changed the way Windows works internally. The product, however, is still Windows. Looking at the Advertising of the launch, however, one might be forgiven for suggesting that Microsoft is trying to position the change as a Paradigm shift. I believe that this allows them to “spin up” the perceived value of the new Windows version to users. I would suggest that some of the “Green IT” initiatives (c.f. “Green wash”) are similarly positioning pre-existing products as environmentally friendly initiatives.

Is it also possible, however, to position a change the other way? If you have a change that fundamentally changes the way that a business works then might there be value is positioning it as a simpler product or process innovation? In doing so the threat that the change poses to stakeholders might be downplayed and so allow a change into the environment that would otherwise meet excessive resistance. I can see that there might be good reasons for doing this, but would this be unethical? That is a difficult challenge that I suspect would need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I don’t believe that the process has to be inherently unethical unless you really are getting an organisation to take on more cost and risk than it would otherwise be willing to do. This, in the final analysis, is the ethical challenge of any form of spin. When does “spin” spill over into out and out lies?

In more practical terms, it may be worth considering this as a checklist when introducing a change which is innovative, and in IT most of our significant projects are effectively innovative change to someone.  Once the innovative direction is considered then there will be consequential considerations that need to be taken into account. In the case of process innovation, for example, there will be a need to focus on the people who will be receiving the change and engaging them as early as possible. In a product innovation scenario, however, it is much more likely that simple communication about the changes will be necessary.

If you wish to read the article it is: “Francis, D. and Bessant, J. (2005), ‘Targeting innovation and implications for capability development’, Technovation, 25.”

4 Responses to Innovation axes in IT…

  1. ben says:

    Hi David
    Innovation is not invention: innovation is bringing something new to an activity (but it need not be new in itself).
    I agree mostly with the four, but would possibly reword as follows:
    – Functional innovation – same market niche, new function
    – Process innovation – same functions, applied to the same niche but in a different way. Can include a change in process that significantly improves time to market, or (e.g.) logistics/supply management (Tesco – by joining till data with supply logistics)
    – Marketing innovation – same functions but positioning to address a different market niche. This can include pricing based innovation.

    A paradigm innovation I would suggest does not exist as an innovation – a paradigm shift occurs when the previous paradigm is no longer stable due to an accumulation of innovations (or, more rarely, one big one). The proximate cause of a paradigm shift might be a sufficiently disruptive innovation – an example would be PAYG mobile phone contracts (removes adoption barrier), introduction of SMS (changes private chat communication from synchronous to asynchronous) , the introduction of ‘clickpay advertising’ (drops risk of paying for web advertising to near zero). But the paradigm shift is not the innovation, it is the change in the mindset of the user population. ref – EJ Dijksterhuis, Mechanization of the world picture (paradigms et al) John Maynard Smith and George R. Price (1973), The logic of animal conflict. Nature 246: 15-18 (evolutionary stable strategies and their disruption).

    Greenwash is an example of defensive adoption of a changed market position. It isn’t actually innovation at all.

    I would agree that should you wish to create a disruptive change in the market without triggering a backwash of defense, then you should try and avoid the perception that your innovations will be associated with a paradigm shift – i.e. minimise their perceived disruption. But if the existing paradigm is no longer stable, then it will shift whether people want it to or not. Bit like a small breach in a dyke – once it starts to flow, it will all go whether you like it or not.

  2. admin says:

    I suspect that the original author (as a Management person) wanted all the points to begin with the same letter. I think the idea behind “Pardigm innovation” was the idea of managing the market into a shift for competitive reasons. If you can force a shift by making the environment correct for the shift to happen then that is, in effect, an innovation in itself. To take you example, whoever made PAYG mobile phones cost effective may have done so because they were more able to compete on that basis than the big players at the time. I don’t know engough about the history of the change to say it did happen that way. I can see that if you want a flood you could start by drilling a hole in the dyke.

    As for Green Wash, if you define innovation as a application of new ideas in a useful way then I see your point. I’m not convinced it is useful as a whole.

  3. MSFT_AlexT says:

    Hi there,
    I was impressed by your post. I read Windows 7 news all day but your post is refreshing! Very interesting points you make in regards to innovation categories.
    I also agree with you regarding “green IT” perception positioning. I think the fact that Windows 7 is being packaged as a green(er) OS than previous ones is a good thing though because it brings awareness to the topic. Even if you may argue that the power management changes aren’t lifechanging (although I think they are!), they constitue an example for the rest of the industry to follow.

    In any case, I don’t know if you read the comment section, but if you do read this, I encourage you to say hi to us on Twitter (if you’re there) and tell me what you think. We’re @CIOsConnect

    Hope to hear from you and read more posts!

    Microsoft Windows Client Team

    • admin says:

      Thank you for the feedback. I am happy to see any improvments in power management when it comes to Green IT. All power usage reductions help, and move us away from the power-hungry days of the past. In those terms I hope it will help. Whether it would be considered a paradigm shift, however, is another discussion.

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