How do you spot an innovative idea early on?
For companies, the innovative nature of an idea is multifactorial. It’s not enough to establish that the idea doesn’t exist and confirm that it has potential value. Numerous elements linked to context, market and temporality must be taken into account to determine whether the idea is truly innovative.
Is an innovative idea necessarily a revolutionary one?
The archetypal innovative idea is one that radically changes a product or service, or transforms an existing market by creating new value.
However, the innovative character of an idea is assessed in the light of the impact it can have on performance, whether entrepreneurial, social or environmental.
For example, an evolutionary idea may have the same or even greater innovative potential than a “revolutionary” idea, provided that it can be implemented more easily within the company.
This quote from Victor Hugo could suffice to illustrate the question of timing in innovation. Timing is an essential factor in assessing the innovative nature of an idea. It’s all about having the right idea at the right time.
Technology, the ability to observe, the ability to match market expectations, intuition and audacity are all essential qualities for an innovative idea. But this is not enough to consider an idea ready for implementation. In fact, an idea that arrives too early cannot be considered innovative because the implementation potential is missing.
For an idea to be considered innovative, it must be feasible in the near future.
Example 1: The electric bicycle
Not every innovation has a precise date and name. The electric bicycle is a trend whose roots go back to 1895, with the patent filed by Odgen Bolton Jr in the USA. Since then, this product has been regularly optimized and improved.
It reappeared on the market at different times: the early twentieth century, the 30s, the 70s, then it was in the 2000s, as the reign of the all-car was slowly coming to an end in big cities, that it re-emerged. A market that’s not confined to Europe, since in China in 2010 there were almost 120 million electric bicycles.
Example 2: Soy steak
Its arrival on the market is the result of a combination of factors. These include growing consumer mistrust of the excesses of the agri-food industry, ecological awareness of the environmental impact of livestock farming, and the need for healthier, more respectful food. The market for organic, vegetarian and vegan products has taken off, requiring the creation of new products that meet these apparent quality criteria.
This is how soy steak and its derivatives, such as vegetarian sausages, came into being. A new product that meets consumers’ needs, but which nevertheless suffers the wrath of lobbies over their names, which are likely to mislead the consumer. Perhaps the fact that it’s disturbing is proof that the product works after all!
Does an innovative idea always have to be profitable?
Nobody embarks on an innovation process for the glory of it. Seeking out ideas means exploring known or unknown territories with one ambition: to improve the performance of one’s organization.
As a result, the question of return on investment is omnipresent in all innovation processes. An innovative idea will only be innovative if it has a sufficiently high potential return to merit the investment and risk it requires.
The higher the potential return on investment, the more innovative the idea will be judged by the company in terms of its ability to contribute to its development.
How do you deal with an idea that’s “too” innovative?
An idea that’s too innovative is one that so overturns established standards that nobody understands or believes it. This is often the case with disruptive innovation that reshuffle the deck and force organizations to completely change their paradigm, or even their business model. Of course, these ideas are innovative, if by innovative we mean revolutionary.
However, as we said earlier, for an idea to be innovative for a company, it must be achievable within a reasonable timeframe in relation to market expectations. When faced with an idea that is “too” innovative, and whose potential is proportional to the degree of uncertainty as to whether it will succeed, it is advisable to implement suitable measures such as intrapreneurship or open innovation.
In the end, the market decides
For the past 20 years, innovation process management has been attempting to move towards standardization. Companies are seeking to structure themselves to make their processes more systemic in their ability to assess the innovative character of ideas. Evaluation models have focused primarily on revealing the innovative potential of ideas by analyzing their ability to be implemented in response to market trends.
The innovative ideas that companies are looking for are no longer necessarily those that challenge or even revolutionize the established model, but rather those that will serve their performance in the medium term.