I was reading an article recently that suggested there are basically 4 types of innovation that a company might seek to undertake:
- Product innovation, whereby a new product or service is brought to market or a current one improved;
- Process innovation, whereby processes and procedures are modified to make them more efficient
- Positioning innovation, whereby a product or service stays fundamentally the same but is sold to a different market or as a different proposition
- 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.”