The Truth About Innovation: Part Two

Continued from Part One

Product Development is one of my favorite university courses to teach, and this important class we learn that there are three forms of innovation.

  1. A continuous innovation describes a new product that requires almost no change in consumer behavior, and so it represents very minor changes in an existing product type. An example of this would be an existing hand lotion product that features a new non-active ingredient, or if you prefer a technological example, each iteration of the iPhone would be continuous. Many experts do not consider a continuous innovation to be very innovative at all.
  2. A dynamically continuous innovation involves a major change in a minor behavior or a minor change in a major behavior. An example would be a hand lotion (either an existing product or a new one) that features an entirely new way of dispensing the liquid such as moving from a jar to a pump. Or technologically speaking, it’s the difference between a tablet and a laptop.
  3. A discontinuous innovation can be very disruptive to the industry. An example in personal care would be a product (or a newly discovered ingredient) that has an entirely new market application such as hair regrowth. The decade-old advent of skin and hair care products in the form of ingestible nutritional supplements may have been the last true discontinuous innovation in our sector. In tech terms, the inventions mentioned earlier in the article would qualify as discontinuous innovations.

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In most cases, it’s not really the ingredients that are innovative, but the finished product. And in every case, it is always the degree of consumer behavioral change required, and not the ingredient/product itself, that determines the type of innovation. It may sound academic, but what happens is that people in general become desensitized to words that they hear all the time such as “innovative, and when they are underwhelmed by what they see, it serves to further numb the target market to the marketing message. And I think we can all agree now that the vast majority of new products are continuous innovations. The real ground-breaking product, featuring an entirely new ingredient with an entirely new application, can only be introduced once. After that, successive products will be dynamically continuous or continuous innovations. As such, in almost all cases, “hot” ingredients are merely popular, and not really innovative.

Image result for innovate products 

Now let’s look at the patent process. In order to qualify for a patent in the U.S., an invention must be novel, involve an inventive step not obvious to a skilled person, and have an industrial application. If approved, the patent is exclusive for 20 years. Patents are awarded in personal care all of the time, mostly in the form of process and composition of matter inventions, but the vast majority of these do not require changes in consumer behavior, and so they cannot be considered innovations in any respect, and in too many cases the changes are things the consumer doesn’t even notice.

To Be Continued in Part Three