Recap: Incremental vs. breakthru innovation


In September, RPI Professor Gina O’Connor wrote to our blog about her research on breakthrough innovation, and what separates it from incremental innovation.

I included a link to the post through LinkedIn, which has spurred an in-depth discussion about the role invention and innovation play in a company’s growth.

Below are some of the 50 comments. Visit the LinkedIn post on the Innovation Management Group (you’ll have to join it first) to see them all, and to weigh in on the discussion yourself.

Davinder Singh: It is probably more important to evaluate and classify ‘Ideas’ not on basis of new to world or company but on the basis of impact that they would have on the business and as a corollary the resources needed and the associated risk/reward equation.

Michael Herman: Perhaps one breakthrough innovation was the discovery of how to make paper. An incremental innovation made sure it was the right size for common use.

Gina O’Connor: Innovation includes all the work required to successfully commercialize an invention. As some of you said, there are many inventions sitting on shelves somewhere collecting dust. For breakthroughs, new markets must be created, new partnerships and value chains arranged, new manufacturing or operations' logistics processes developed and more to leverage the invention, or combination of inventions, into commercial reality.

Will Robinson: Edison didn't "breakthrough innovate" the lightbulb, he invented it. I would put forth that the invention of the lightbulb has had a huge economic impact (and the car, IC, etc.). At the other end of the spectrum, however, I struggle. Is it innovative if I add a "help" button to my website or offer a new color car? Both are incremental change for the sake of economics, but I would be hesitant to call either particularly 'innovative'.

John Benfield: Incremental Innovation is Evolution (improvement or change to something that already exists). Breakthrough Innovation is Revolution (Something new that disrupts or replaces something else).

add 2 Will Robinsons

add 2 Will Robinsons comment:

I wonder how Edison did approach to finally make the light bulb shine for good by electricity because the first 100 bulbs burned.

I guess he must have constructed the wire over and over until its "shape" lasted. Or the shape of the glass bulb? Do we know how he started from "A" and went on?

we all know the final result which is "Z".

add 2 John Benfields comment:

yes: a breakthrough by evolution is an improvement which made it and worked out!

so not only Edison did try 100 times, nature also does. of some things yet we still don´t know what the improvement is about - technical and natural.

interesting topic!

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