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“If your product requires advertising or salespeople to sell it, it’s not good enough: technology is primarily about product development, not distribution.” That’s a quote from Peter Thiel’s book "Zero to One". Finding the right innovation will make your product stand out, and will make people’s heads turn. Innovation sets new standards for the industry and distinguishes you, not as a competitor, but as the leader.
Innovation and particularly technological innovation is what enables new concepts and creations, at their core they rely on one of two things.
In one way it can be the betterment of an already existing tech, that could well be the different iterations of mobile networks, 2G/3G/4G/5G. Every single one allows for much higher speeds that in turn create new use cases, 3G introduced images, and slow web browsing. 4G introduced high-quality video streaming and 5G still has to deliver on its promises of Virtual reality.
In another way, Innovation can be, in rarer cases, the creation of something completely new: electricity, the steam engine, or the internet. This type of innovation is harder to come by but its potential is immense, even creating new economical eras. Think of the industrial era that largely benefited from easier transportation, particularly using the steam engine.
Technological innovation is both slow and fast-paced. As everyone tries to improve on their last iteration, it pushes participating individuals and companies to push their ideas forward and bring them to market as fast as possible. However, working on the improvement of a process is very time-consuming, it requires careful testing, planning, and creativity, which can’t be forced or rushed.
You might be wondering what sets Innovation and Technological Innovation apart. The latter refers to an invention, something that improves on previous technology. Innovation by itself refers to a particular kind of invention, one that is useful and serves a real purpose, one that can be pushed to the market.
Think of the previous example, 5G provides an incredible improvement when compared to 4G, the speeds involved are insane, in that sense, it classifies as technological innovation. Now think of its use cases, most people are fine using the 4G network, no one needs to download a movie in seconds every day, 5G also doesn’t carry the signal very far, which requires huge quantities of antennas. Antennas that require resources and electricity. In that sense, 5G doesn’t “yet” classify as an innovation as it hasn’t found its public.
Implementing and pursuing technological innovation provides a solid advantage for any company willing to engage in the process. Here is a short list:
Most importantly for companies, innovation earns the most, consumers are eager to have the latest and greatest tech, it’s part of the reason why smartphone sales are slowing down. As new iterations seem less and less disruptive, people aren’t as willing to purchase the newest device. This fast-paced innovation also has side effects, products now have a shorter lifespan and need to be renewed frequently. As several companies approach a problem differently and each develops their tech, markets are more segmented, consumers have more choice but can also feel lost when facing a dozen products that all achieve the same result.
Having powerful tech in a product means it stands out from the competition, has more visibility, and presents itself as a better choice.
Innovation doesn’t necessarily have to be on your products, it can be on the things that surround it, for example, a supply chain. Having more quality controls or a quicker manufacturing process means you reduce the cost of your units. These improvements have enabled graphical interfaces which enable faster prototyping, things can be modified by quick edits. Tests or at least estimations can be carried out by computational calculations. Each one shortens the time needed to bring a product to market, spending less money, and increasing the final earnings. Your next product can then start development earlier, also shortening future development cycles and ensuring your company stays on top.
Innovation doesn’t come easily, in the introduction we’ve discussed how it can come in two different forms. One that is fundamental change such as creating a new field of study and another one that implements an already existing principle. While the first has more potential, it’s also much harder to get a breathtaking idea.
The second one may be less profound but the creative process can be decomposed and applied to any existing technology.
One interesting method goes as follows, take an existing technology on which you’d like to improve upon and list its problems. For example, a traditional automatic watch often has to be wound.
Now try and understand its internals, try to deconstruct it, what powers it? What makes it move? How does it show the time ? The point of these questions is for you to get a general sense of the different components of your system.
Now pick one of them and list the different existing systems that serve the same purpose. If we imagine a traditional watch, its components are mechanical, could we change its source of power so as not to wind it back every day? What sources of power exist? What are the pros and cons of each solution? Upon listing these ideas, a small ion battery seems to be the most appropriate as it is cost-effective and relatively simple compared to the system in a mechanical watch.
Now that you’ve settled on the best solution, one that fits the way you want to innovate on a device, adapt that solution to the rest of the device, how do I make a mechanical device fit with a small battery ? That answer could well be that you have to redesign the entire watch and change the internals to use a small timer with a digital screen that would fit your battery.
These steps applied to a watch might not seem impressive or that useful, but the strength of this principle is that it can be applied to any system and its implementation is systematic, just follow the steps to start the thought process of innovation.
Let’s go through them again: