One of the issues that I came across this week concerning innovation was around the question of radical versus incremental innovation. Most innovation is incremental, building upon previous ways of doing things, or improving on existing products. Very little innovation is radical, where something new is created.

So what is the value of radical innovation? In another discussion I had, it became clear to me that if there had been some blue sky thinking and radical innovation  around a product/service then it may have created a buzz in the marketplace that is currently missing. This would have allowed for key differentiation between that service and its competitors and thus improved their competitive advantage.

Two of the most influential writers/academics who have proposed radical innovation are Gary Hamel and C.K.Prahald in their book ‘Competing for the Future’.

They stipulate that to create the future a company must

‘Change in some fundamental way the rules of engagement in a long standing industry, redraw the boundaries between industries, create entirely new industries’

 

This requires radical transformation and not just incremental change.

How to start thinking in terms of radical innovation?

4 key questions that need to be asked are:

  • How do we want this industry to be shaped in the next five or ten years?
  • What must we do to ensure that the industry evolves in a way that is maximally advantageous for us?
  • What skills and capabilities must we begin building now if we are to occupy a leadership position?
  • How should we organise ourselves for opportunities that may not fit neatly in the current business units and divisions?

This way of thinking is what is often called blue sky thinking and it can lift peoples thinking beyond where they are now.

How do we enable people in organisations, or organisations themselves to develop this type of thinking?

 

One approach is to use creative thinking techniques and tools to challenge mindsets, to take risks, to envision a future that is different from the one we have now.

Here are 5 key points for thinking more radically:

  1. Dream the dreams of those who are not limited by practicalities such as time and financial constraints. You can work out how to get around these later.
  2. Never assume that something is impossible. There may be a way to do something, and every suggestion and request deserves consideration.
  3. Encourage blue sky thinking as an opportunity to challenge current ways of working.
  4. Ban negative thinking in blue sky thinking. It serves no purpose.
  5. Encourage all staff to be equally involved in any blue sky thinking and creative thinking exercises you develop.

It would be great to hear your comments and also your experiences of radical innovation.