What Should You Know About Incremental Innovation?

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No entrepreneur wants their business to become stagnant. Unfortunately, it’s not usual for leadership to fall into the trap of thinking their focus on older practices equates to the kind of consistency that keeps customers loyal. The result is often that these companies fall behind the times and fail to achieve meaningful growth. To truly thrive, companies need to innovate.  

This can be a daunting idea. After all, we tend to associate the concept of innovation with the big and impressive industry-disrupting leaps. Most businesses won’t have the time or funding to act in this way. But that doesn’t mean your company shouldn’t commit to change. Incremental innovation can be a good solution here.  

But what do we mean by this? Let’s examine the idea of incremental innovation and what some key best practices are.

What Is Incremental Innovation?

Incremental innovation refers to the potential to gradually make improvements to your operations over time. This is the opposite of the more immediately noticeable and more disruptive big innovations companies can make occasionally. However, it is also usually wider-spread. This type of innovation is applied to various areas of the company, gradually stepping up the quality and efficiency of activities and protocols until they are in line with long-term innovation goals.

Progress may be slower here and the impact is not usually quite so immediately impressive. Nevertheless, this isn’t to say that there isn’t significant potential for positive outcomes.

What Are the Benefits of Acting Incrementally?

Some of the advantages of incremental innovation include:

  • Lower Cost

Disruptive innovation takes serious capital. After all, it involves bringing something entirely new to the market or your operations. There will be planning, prototyping, testing, research, and marketing involved. You may even need to retool equipment or develop bespoke software platforms to support these. Incremental innovation, on the other hand, tends to be less of a drain on your capital. In most cases, you’re building on processes that already exist, so you’re not having to start from scratch. The activities also take place over a longer period of time, allowing you to disperse your budget rather than invest all at once.

  • Less Risky

Bringing something fresh to the market, the industry, or your company can be an exciting prospect. Nevertheless, this comes with a significant element of uncertainty. You can’t be sure that the changes will work. Indeed, there’s certainly no guarantee that consumers will react positively to it. This presents risk to your company and investors may even consider it to be too hazardous. Incremental innovation, on the other hand, takes place at a gentler place. You’re not entirely reinventing the wheel, although the cumulative effect may well result in greater innovations. As such, the risks you take along the way tend to be smaller, making them easier to manage, mitigate, and respond to.

  • Market Relevance

To engage in disruptive forms of innovation, it is necessary to be forward-thinking. However, part of the issue with this is your ideas may be too advanced for the current market. Incremental innovation stays largely in step with the current needs and preferences of demographics. Whenever incremental innovation does push ahead of the curve, it’s not so far that it becomes irrelevant to the present state of the market. As such, consumers and staff can still relate to the products and services you offer. 

Types of Incremental Innovation

Innovation in itself can be something of an abstract concept, as you’re stepping into largely uncharted waters. While incremental innovation is certainly a more manageable approach, it helps to understand the forms it can take. 

Some examples of areas this approach can be applied to include: 

  • Product Improvements

Incremental innovation doesn’t require you to introduce new and disruptive offerings to your consumers. Rather, this approach recognizes the value in consistently finding ways to improve on the services you already provide. This involves a regular commitment to assessing your services, seeking consumer input, and gaining your staff’s insights on what you offer. You can then gradually invest in designing, testing, and finally implementing better options. These types of small changes may not shake up the industry, but they certainly represent innovations in customer experience. 

  • Process Alterations

The way your company operates internally affects everything from your profitability to your reputation in the community. As such, it is an important focus for incremental innovation. This could be surrounding efficiency improvements in each department’s workflow. It might include restructuring the business to reflect a flatter organization. Increasingly, this type of incremental innovation also involves gradual moves toward more sustainable processes that put less pressure on the environment.

  • Tool Adoption

The growth of the digital landscape has resulted in more advanced technologies being accessible to businesses. Indeed, it has changed the future of work entirely. However, this doesn’t mean that utilizing the most disruptive tools is always the best approach. With incremental innovation, the emphasis is on introducing gradually better technology into your current practices. For instance, this could include utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) supported management software, rather than immediately going for full automation. The incremental approach here means you start to benefit from innovations while also utilizing technology that isn’t completely alien in nature to your staff or customers.

Incremental Innovation Best Practices

Incremental innovation isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. However, as with any new process, you can get the most out of it and mitigate issues by conforming to some best practices. 

The behavior you should adopt here includes:

  • Commitment to Planning

Incremental innovation can’t be improvised effectively. Even though this approach is generally less risky, you should certainly plan ahead. Build a clearly structured life cycle for how you treat innovation in each area of your business. This should include periods of initial research, ideation, prototyping, testing, implementation, and review. Your business will have its own needs and you should tailor the life cycle accordingly, but the key is to implement a structure that can be maintained and replicated throughout your company. This keeps everyone on the same page and makes it simpler for you to arrange incremental progress in different stages.

  • Seeking Staff Input

Your staff is on the front lines of your business. As such, they have the most relevant perspectives on the day-to-day activities within each of your company’s departments. As such, it’s important not to simply dictate innovations to them. Ensure they are actively involved in the process. Make it easy for them to always provide suggestions for improvements with open feedback channels. Build innovation teams composed of workers from all levels of the organization. This provides you with more diverse perspectives and can also be instrumental in long-term retention. When you start the testing or implementation processes, seek further data on employees’ thoughts by issuing pulse surveys. The more you involve staff in incremental innovation, the more everyone in the organization stands to benefit.   

  • Going Big Occasionally

Incremental innovation in itself is a useful approach. However, it remains the case that you’re not going to gain much of a competitive edge utilizing it alone. As such, it’s important to make the occasional big leap part of your overall approach to growth. There will always be risks in business and the spoils often go to those who are willing to take calculated chances every so often. Remember, incremental innovation isn’t intended to replace disruptive change entirely. Rather, it’s a method that puts your business into a stronger position to support those radical innovations when the right opportunities arise.

Wrapping Up

Innovation is an essential component of any thriving business. However, you don’t just need to focus on those risky moon shots. Incremental innovation is a more practical and sustainable approach for most businesses. This focuses on gradual smaller pushes forward across various areas of your business. To utilize this tool well takes a significant commitment to planning and assessment, you will also benefit from involving your staff in a meaningful way. Don’t ignore radical innovation entirely, but it’s also wise to strengthen your business first with these incremental adjustments.