Incremental Innovation – Small Improvements Can Make Big Differences

February 03, 2020

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I have a highchair that’s been in my extended family for four generations. My grandson is its latest “end user.” It’s hard to imagine how many times it’s been messed up, wiped off, and then folded up and tucked away during its service. Take one look and I bet you would remark that today’s highchairs are safer, designed to be more stable and with less chance of pinching little fingers. Indeed, contemporary highchairs are built to reduce all those risks. In fact, new regulations were implemented in 2019 to help reduce injuries. 

I also recently came across a vintage golf bag. It’s a Sit-n-Rest, designed and built in 1958 by Foreway, a Milwaukee company that no longer exists. Too bad. The design is mechanical engineering genius. It rolls beautifully, has a Score Pak for your scorecard, zippered shoe compartment, storage pocket and detachable valet bag. The wheels come off and the handle pivots so that it’s about the size of a small suitcase when you want to store it. Today’s cart makers could take a lesson in quality and value.

These two antiques are what got me juiced to write this post. You see, seems to me that we all get enamored by disruptive innovations like the smartphone or the Internet of Things, and fascinated by life-changing technologies just around the corner, such as everybody’s new favorites: 5G and autonomous vehicles.

Yet, there are a lot of instances where incremental innovation of established business or manufacturing processes, or reimagined products, are moving the needle when it comes to both soft and hard KPIs – including productivity, revenue and even brand equity. The challenge is getting those “small” improvements seen, understood and experienced.

Poles, Portions, and Pulsed Power

One of the great things about my role at 9thWonder is helping develop messaging for a remarkably broad variety of enterprises. They give us the opportunity to dig deep into what distinguishes those companies, which they might not recognize on their own, and infuse what we’ve mined into messaging and, of course, their websites.

Here are three examples, just to get your thoughts stirring.

Edge computing – Take a big cloud, break it into many smaller clouds, and float those clouds over the places you want to speed up broadband data communication. Edge is important incremental innovation, but let’s not forget that without utility poles and transmission towers, telecom companies would be hard pressed to move data from edge devices to edge compute locations. Among a host of services, Tilson Technologies navigates the technical, legal and geographical logistics around building or modifying those poles. Who would have thought streetlights are a key to the IoT?

Smaller can be smarter – Some fast food providers are offering smaller portions, after decades of assuming everyone wants more calories for their dollar. Quiznos will make any sandwich on flatbread. It’s a move enabling them to woo calorie-conscious women and men, expanding their brand relevance.

Pulsed power and computing power – Advanced Energy is a company in Ft. Collins, CO with a deep history of developing power sources used in semiconductor manufacturing. They recently unveiled a new product that enables pulsing power – precisely and extremely rapidly increasing and decreasing the amount of power regulating the deposition and etching processes during fabrication – better than ever before, which in turn helps the process be more stable, increasing yield. For semiconductor manufacturers, squeezing even 0.5% increase in product yield influences revenue enough to warrant investing in power controls offering a step up.

Chasing Unicorns is fun, but…

Many entrepreneurs are pouring sweat equity into their dream of being the next start-up unicorn. So much factors into that happening. When it does, it usually doesn’t take much effort to tell the world why they are disruptive. We probably live it.

I once was on a plane and got talking to the guy in the next seat, who said that he was involved with adding the drawstring to the plastic garbage bag. I wish I knew who first thought: “Maybe we should put wheels on that suitcase.” And I’d love to meet the team that has taken the highchair to new levels of safety – and easy clean-up. Now, that’s cool #incrementalinnovation, IMHO.

So, next time you are wondering how to tell the world about your special sauce or not-so-special-but-it’s-what-we-do-sauce, please let us know. It would be fun to help you figure out why your audience cares, and how we can use known and yet-to-be imagined digital marketing to prove to them why they should.

Jon Snyder

Jon thrives on the opportunity to bring new thinking and insight to messaging for enterprises in industries ranging from telecom to consumer products and services.

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