What Does it Really Mean to be Innovative?


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Last week’s session at the Ad Club of NYC hosted the innovative expertise of speaker, Saneel Radia. Radia is the Director of Innovation at Vivaki and the founder of innovation boutique, Finch15. He challenged the group to think about what the word “innovation” really means. Sure, we hear it all the time. But what must a company actually do to be considered innovative? The definition provided by Merriam-Webster is “the introduction of something new.” Radia added the phrase, “and relevant” to that definition, assuming that companies are actively working to do what they are currently doing, better.

I’m not going to lie and say that I walked away from this session with a clear understanding of what makes one company more innovative than another. However, I did gain more insight on the competitive landscape that exists for bringing new products to market. Companies that were beat out by the next best thing initially did not recognize their competitors when they started out as low end new entrants to market. This is mainly because they didn’t look like they had a competing product. When Google and Craigslist were born they were not as tangible or story specific as the newspaper. However, now the newspaper industry has fallen victim to the digital news space.

Does this mean that to be innovative you should dress your competing product to look like something else altogether? No. But it should be something new, or offer its relevant services in a new way. Being innovative can be as simple as finding a way to have your consumers to do the leg work for you and feel as though their participation matters. Yelp, Amazon, Google, and Craigslist all get consumers to write their content for them, through reviews. Innovation also gets easier when customers do it with you. Collaboration! The Swiffer, for example, was born out of Procter & Gamble’s “Connect & Develop” open innovation forum.

How are some companies innovating in today’s marketplace?

Perhaps the most intriguing example of collaborative innovation is the partnership between GE and Quirky. GE handed over patents to Quirky that were not necessarily valuable or relevant to them. Quirky’s team of inventors and designers are experts in bringing smaller scale inventions to life. The Egg Minder is one of the items in the GE/Quirky smart product line. Through the use of an app you can tell how many eggs you have left in your fridge and when each expiration date is. You may be thinking, GE gave away patents so that we can keep tabs on… our eggs? Well, yes. But here is why this matters. By creating a line of smart home products that link to our smart phones, the smart home is coming to life one innovative consumer goods product at a time. A project of that size and caliber is something worth investing in for GE, especially if all they have to do is give another company the permission to build it.

Just as the growth of the digital landscape has conditioned consumers to want information faster and at no cost to them, innovators are pressured to turn an idea into something meaningful and tangible before anyone else. The resources needed to satisfy these demands come at a high cost, which is why an investment from a power house like GE can make all the difference. At the end of the day, innovation is all about utilizing the resources available, to their full capacity, and finding a way to deliver something new and relevant. Ready… Go!