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Innovation Waffle

There has been a lot of internal chatter at my employer around innovation. A recent internal Hackathon produced some interesting, innovative stuff for using a Kinect in one of our projects and piqued peoples interest. Oddly enough my dad reminded me of a quote the other day.

"If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse" - Henry Ford

Creating a faster horse is considered sustaining innovation - you're pushing boundaries but you aren't breaking into new markets. Instead, what Ford did was create the Ford Model T, the first affordable automobile. This disruptive innovation changed everything, breaking into new markets and created value where once no value existed.

To be truly innovative you need both a need and the technology to achieve it. The need doesn't even need to be particularly complex (in Fords case it was the need to go faster), the technology doesn't even need to be revolutionary - just applied in a different manner (in my employers case the Kinect).

But to really succeed in this innovation you need the ability to marry these with something. That something is a vision. Ford realised the need and he was capable of harnessing technology to address that need in such a way as to disrupt the market. This wouldn't have been possible without Fords vision. In fact he didn't even really need to understand the detailed nuances of what the public needed, all he needed to know was the basic premise. Arguably, even if he wasn't the engineer, he could have got someone else to manage the technology. Admittedly this opens up another avenue of discussion - the whole nature vs nurture aspect of innovation - but with a strong enough vision I'm not sure that matters as much.

Vision is the Glue of Innovation

It's great to have a need you want to address, it's even better to be able to apply all sorts of technology to that need but odds are it will all come to nought without a strong vision. Vision is the glue of innovation, while you need both need and technology they'll never really stay together without that binding vision.

Published in Craftsmanship on November 09, 2011