While innovation requires rolling your sleeves up and digging into your own company’s problems, it’s also a spectator sport. We naturally look to the most innovative companies for inspiration and emerging trends in innovation. Companies like Google and Apple have shocked the world in years past with transformative, moonshot projects, but things have changed in recent years.
Apple’s flagship iPhone has changed very little in recent years, and its most critical innovations have been in supply chain management or user experience, rather than transformative products. Where some companies are chasing emerging technologies like VR and smart automobiles, Apple has silently and continually optimized its consumer experience. Becoming boring has led Apple to record profitability and revenue.
Last week’s Google I/O event highlights their own shift to a less flashy – even boring – approach to innovation. Where past events have involved skydiving onto the roof of convention centers, 2017’s I/O featured Android milestone announcements and consumer-focused improvements to existing products like Google Home and Google Photos.
It’s probably appropriate for a company that manages mountains of private data to take a more reserved approach to new ventures, but innovators of all stripes can take a page from this playbook.
Innovation is boring.
Let’s be honest. Launching a new venture is exciting – the road to get there is often boring, frustrating and slow. Sitting in ideation workshops, moving Post-It Notes across your project board, and pitching your ideas to executives teams is all hard work built on risk. Innovation rarely comes from a flash of insight and rapid, perfect development. It’s a process focused on solving problems, often boring problems requiring boring solutions.
And that’s OK, because true innovation should focus on what’s best for the organization and its customers, not necessarily on chasing a flashy solution.
What’s most impactful for your business?
It’s no easy feat to deliver a “boring” solution to an executive team that wants to embrace a particular technology or attempt to disrupt an industry. It takes courage to tell a corporate leader that a flashy idea won’t solve a consumer pain point or drive revenue.
Emerging technologies make attractive targets for executives and innovators, alike. But as unproven platforms, they also place inherent limits on the problems you can truly solve for your customers and stakeholders. An executive may have a gut instinct that consumers want an augmented-reality experience, yet your customers may just tell you they want an easier way to access their account or a more streamlined user experience.
We’ve looked before at companies at three stages of the innovation lifecycle. Microsoft is a company on the rebound, and it’s pushing exciting new products to change a consumer perception of a tired, old company. Apple has the track record to be boring, and Google has matured to the point where it needs to guard customers rather than attract them. Choosing your innovation stance requires a deep understanding of your business and the challenges facing your customers.
Sometimes, organizations need transformative innovation to attract new customers, solve critical problems or open new markets. But more often than not, it’s the boring, iterative initiatives that drive the most value for consumers and companies alike.