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May 4th, 2018
What makes transformative innovation?
by Patrick Tully

Transformative innovation is both rare and risk but when done well it can create significant and lasting change. In this new post, APAC MD Patrick Tully explains why there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to delivering transformative innovation.

The simplest and most inclusive definition of innovation comes from the Merriam-Webster dictionary; “innovation = the introduction of something new”. The breadth of this definition is great, but it does leave room for misinterpretation. Having worked in innovation for many years I’ve covered many different aspects of innovation. Of them all, the one that’s currently attracting most attention is transformative innovation.

A potential definition of transformative innovation is ‘the introduction of something new that creates significant and lasting change’. It is the idea of significant and lasting change that makes this form of innovation so attractive. These words suggest substantial commercial or cultural rewards. Yet, with large reward often comes large potential risk. That is why many big, well established organisations desire transformative innovation but lack the commercial appetite to take on the risk.

The other potential peril of pursuing transformative innovation is that it often relies on others to ensure its adoption by the population at large. The internet’s impact would have been limited without the smartphone, laptops and networks. And where would the light bulb be without electricity, the grid, access to cheap power etc.

Trans change

So, it seems that transformative innovation is both rare and risky. Yet evidence and opinion suggest that it is becoming more frequent and accessible as the rate of innovation grows. So what, in our view, is driving this change and is it real or imagined? The change is being driven by two things:

- a loosening of the definition of transformative innovation (for good reason),

- a genuine increase in the opportunity to use innovation to transform lives.

The loosening definition is driven by our ability to segment audiences and markets with greater accuracy and impact. This gives more opportunity to innovate and create significant and lasting change for a specific target. In medicine, innovations are transformative for the patients they’re created for, but don’t always change society. On a more trivial note, Nespresso changed the lives of coffee lovers but did little for fans of tea.

Coupled with our ability to better understand specific needs, we can also access many more ways to innovate and service these needs. As the world becomes more networked our ability to innovate has been enhanced by:

- gathering and sharing information with greater speed and accuracy,

- the use of emerging technologies (e.g. VR, 3D printing) to drive out new ideas,

- the ability to synthesise many different inputs with speed,

- an ability to rapidly manifest ideas and get a read on their appeal.

As well as a greater ability to innovate our complex lives provide greater opportunity. For some the arrival of Uber or Airbnb have been truly transformational. However, for many more people there are far more basic and fundamental needs that could be transformed by innovation.

So, in our view, transformative innovation works on a sliding scale, driven both by the size of impact and breadth of adoption. What is consistent about all transformative innovation is that it:

- drives positive change for segments of society or society at large,

- moves from adoption through to dependence,

- often drives further innovation and change in related categories,

- requires both invention as well as understanding existing audience needs,

- is always more significant and risky than incremental change.

Ultimately there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to delivering transformative innovation. That’s why we, at fusion learning, believe in looking at individual challenges on their own merits. Only then can you apply the right blend of rigour and creativity, art and science and information and intuition to create transformative innovation that’s do-able and desirable for our clients.