Yet more on innovation

Good to see some thoughtful stuff on innovation amongst the general encouragement to just do it more and better.  Alexander Kandybin in strategy+business looks at the really tough challenge of winning with innovation in consumer products. Now as an outsider in this sector, my impression is that innovation is pretty fast and furious, but Alexander points out that most of it is minor product improvement or simple innovations in packaging etc, brought about precisely by the competitive challenges that make for a high failure rate. Chances of success are small, so let’s not risk too much by trying too many novelties or putting too much investment behind them.

He recommends an interesting alternative – introducing many more products, and giving them plenty of time to succeed or fail in the market.

Just one thing to beware of – the cost and effort of getting just a single product to fulfill its potential in this sector is enormous, for rather simple reasons [see chapter 6 of my book]. Consumers can’t just be ‘switched on’ to a product from a standing start. They have to be taken from ignorance of the product, through awareness, understanding and appreciation, which takes time and money, and all of which has to happen against a cacophony of noise from hundreds of other products. Yes, there are tricks to short-circuit these stages, but they are hard to find.

… all of which has a very unfortunate consequence – many, many perfectly decent products get launched with only a tiny fraction of the investment needed to realise their potential. Surely, there’s a 2+2=5 here .. use the many-and-varied evolutionary approach Alexander proposes to raise the number of promising new products, then really throw in sufficient resources to each in turn to extract their potential quickly.  

.. which would bring me onto another topic if I had time – the need for much more ‘controlled experimentation’ in strategy.

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