What are the different types of innovation?

As you might know, « There are two types of people … ». As a meme-addict, the following punchline or illustration one might stumble upon after reading this sentence is usually quite fun. Today the drop’s going to be a bit more classic. So, « There are two types of peoplethose who know how to differentiate the existing kind of innovation in this world and the others »

So, which type are you?

To be fair, I’m more the second than the first one. That’s exactly why I was intrigued to learn more about – and list – the different kinds of innovations that existed once I found out there were more than one.

Brace yourself, we’re going in.

Disclaimer though: this guide is non-exhaustive, I may complete it with ressources as I go and discover more on the topic.

incremental innovation

This one might be the most common of all. In a HBR article (recommended below), Greg Satell even nicknames this one « Basic research » to underline the progressive aspect of this type.

Let me illustrate with an example. Imagine yourself turning your cellphone on in the morning to get a notification warning you that you should update your operating system. Curious as you are, there you go clicking on the red button, opening your settings, and find out the update only contains one or two touch-ups bettering your phone’s security or usability. If you’re like me, chances are you’ll procrastinate updating your phone on the spot (pros would tell you it’s both, an error and a breach) and wait for the next reminder.

Well this is the perfect illustration of what an incremental innovation is: improving what’s already out there.

What’s interesting with incremental innovations is that they participate to use us to new habits or ways of consuming, which can end up in radically changing our society. For instance, it’s our accustoming to tactile devices, quick internet access, constant reachability and data tracking that made the connected watches possible (after developing phones). To me, it’s this type of acculturation that made the thought of testing other « devices » such as under-skin identification.

some articles on the topic:
  • The power of Incremental Innovation by Wired which focuses on how incremental innovation can lead to groundbreaking changes, developing – among other cases – the iPhone. Indeed, Apple seems to have built an ecosystem out of a plethora of seemingly « small » innovations that are ultra powerful once combined. Among them: using your device as a mailing terminal, to play games, etc.

radical innovation

New technology, new market

This is the exact opposite of an incremental innovation. It means that a new product or service has been create and will change the market it competes into.

A radical innovation is usually then completed by small adjustments – which can be referred to as incremental this time – once on the market.

disruptive innovation

Existing market, new technology

When I was in school, the term « disruption » was my business teachers’ all-time-favorite word. Disruption, as if stating it could change the nature of what we were all creating: a market-changing product/service – it wasn’t the case.

This term was first used in the business world (in relation to innovation) by Harvard teacher Clayton Christensen. Originally, disruption means rupture, hinting at sudden and deep change. And, if an innovation is, by design, a new element brought to a market – thus allowing us to refer to as « revolutionary », all innovations are not disruptive. Indeed, in this term lies the notion of accessibility. For instance, according to Wikipedia, inventing car was revolutionary for sure, but not disruptive as only few people could afford this new means of transportation. Yet, fordism allowed its mass-production and mass-adoption, which can be referred to as disruptive.

Same goes for computers. The original product wasn’t so affordable – nor was it mobile –, but major actors contributed to transforming it into a smaller / wide-audience product.

architectural innovation

Existing technology, new market

An architectural innovation is when a firm takes its skills and structure to another market. This usually concerns bigger players – such as the GAFAM for instance.

some articles to go further on the topic of innovation:

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