Micro-innovations Can Be Just As Important
Many people feel that innovation must be a huge, game-changing, life altering event. That when you run an innovation program, that it must create new technologies or new innovations in completely new areas. That it must be disruptive in order to be great. Unfortunately, if you are only looking for the big game changers, you might miss the building blocks of the game changers: micro-innovations. Micro-innovations can be small innovations which, when coupled with others, change the game, or simply small, new ways of doing things which can help unlock new kinds of creative thinking.
There are a few reasons for not ignoring micro-innovations:
- If you are always looking for the touchdown on every play, you miss the little plays which add up to a lot. In fact, one could argue that the little plays are the one that matter – they advance the ball slowly across the field, sometimes under the radar of the competition, until it’s too late and then bam, you score. In fact, micro innovations are occurring all the time, all over your organization. If you have anything larger than say one location and 50 employees, I’d suggest that there are a lot of micro innovations occurring all over your company in the various corners of your enterprise. This is great, but they are happening in those corners. Without a robust, enterprise-wide program, they tend to stay in those corners.
- It’s much easier to envision and implement micro-innovations than it is to come up with the game changers. As I mentioned, micro-innovations don’t necessarily add up to a new innovation – they could simply create the environment for new creative thinking.
- In my experience, I find that most of the game changers end up being blends of micro-innovations anyway. Most of Apple’s products, in my view, are a blend of micro-innovations which came before.
Example: look at the object which began Apple’s ascent into the (now second) most valuable company in the world, the iPod. The iPod wasn’t really a game changer, in my mind. There were plenty of other MP3 players at the time, most of which used static memory in order to save their tracks, but the problem with those was the relatively small size of the storage. Jobs’ innovation was to couple that with a portable hard drive, which, on its own, was simply a miniature version of a portable hard drive. This, plus the addition of iTunes in order to allow the layperson to purchase and load music onto the device turned it into a massive game changer. Three micro-innovations combined (an mp3 player, a portable hard drive, and a easy-to-use ecosystem, fronted by iTunes)
If you look at Apple today, the reason that they are such a powerful and popular brand is that they, in my view, actually prioritize micro-innovations over macro innovations. The difference between an iPhone 1 and an iPhone 5s is marginal, and the difference between an iPad and an iPhone is simply size, and a few minor features. Almost every “innovation” over the last 8 years has been micro.
Micro-innovations are where most progress occurs – and the best way to capture those micro-innovations is to help unearth them, no matter where they occur in your company. Help those micro-innovations get to the surface – socialize them and spread them around your company and help the innovators share and turn those micro-innovations into new macro-innovations.
Yet the vast majority of human progress is crafted differently. In fact, it’s the little creative shifts – what I refer to as micro-innovations – that most often carry the day. These mini innovations can be subtle, but add up to significant results en masse. A fresh way of conducting your weekly sales meeting. Reimagining the physical layout of your shop floor. A modern twist to the format you use to conduct job interviews. A novel way to manage a customer complaint. A new item on the menu.