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Incremental and Breakthrough Innovation

Let’s look at the two main types of innovation. They are known as incremental and breakthrough innovations.
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© EFQM

Let’s look at the two main types of innovation. They are known as incremental and breakthrough innovations.

Incremental Innovation

Incremental innovation is the type of innovation that is most frequently seen in organisations. It involves making consistent improvements to an existing product or service over time.

It can include reducing costs, adding new features, as well as implementing ways to make the product or service more accessible to customers.

Incremental innovation represents a way to generate value from existing products or services without making significant changes.

Incremental Innovation Example

Think of the car industry where modifications are made to established models every few years. This is intended to create the sense that there is something new, and to generate increased sales. Incremental innovation may not appear to be innovative, but it can help organisations to maintain an advantage in their marketplace

Breakthrough Innovation

This form of innovation is more disruptive. Indeed, it is also referred to as disruptive or radical innovation. It leads to new products or services being delivered in entirely new ways.

Disruptive innovations are those that involve making changes that may have more risk, but also the possibility of positive return on time and investment.

Due to the greater risks involved, larger enterprises often neglect disruptive innovation. However, this can leave them vulnerable to competition from smaller start-up organisations that are able to specialize in disruptive features.

There can be a higher level of uncertainty associated with disruptive innovation, yet it is sometimes necessary in order to secure the long-term viability of an organisation.

Breakthrough Innovation Involves Significant Change

Radical or breakthrough innovation involves a significant change in the business model and technology of an organisation.

The first iPhone was a fundamentally new product to market, creating new demand in the process. Another great example of breakthrough innovation on the technology front is Blippar, a ground-breaking visual search app that recognises objects in the real world and then uses augmented reality to bring them to life through fresh content.

No list of breakthrough innovations would be complete without including Dyson. The world’s first bag-less vacuum cleaner is based on an existing business model but the company harnessed new technology to substantially improve the market offering.

The EFQM Definition of Innovation

The EFQM definition of innovation challenges some preconceptions about innovation.

The first thing to note is that it focuses on taking an idea and translating it into something tangible. Innovation is not just about being creative and having a creative culture. Yes, the idea itself is important. However, it is what you do with the idea that makes the difference.

Innovation Not Revolution

Innovation can apply to the development of a product, service or to an improved way of working. Innovation does not require a revolution inside organisations. It is about the thoughtful management of processes and a focus on getting things done.

Innovation Not Always New Technology

Innovation does not exclusively focus on new technology. The development of new business models and new strategies are equally important.

The definition also recognises that innovation is relevant to any organisational context. It is applicable to “products, services, solutions” in any sector.

Managing Innovation

Managing innovation is actually not any more difficult than other management activities. However, there are many pre-conceptions surrounding innovation that make it appear more complex than it is. The EFQM Innovation Framework provides a practical approach to making innovation happen.

© EFQM
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