IT Best Practices

The 4 Types of Innovation and the Problems They Solve

Innovation is the cornerstone of an organization’s survival. It’s sometimes the difference between a problem costing a thousand dollars or a million to solve. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Greg Satell finds we tend to use a “one size fits all” mentality when it comes to innovation, and it’s horribly ineffective. He believes there isn’t a single, foolproof plan for innovation–but rather an innovation matrix that can be followed in conjunction with how well the problem and domain are defined.

Not Well-Defined Domain Well-Defined Domain
Well-Defined Problem Breakthrough Innovation Sustaining Innovation
Not Well-Defined Problem Basic Research Disruptive Innovation

Enter the Innovation Matrix

The sustaining innovation section of the matrix is where most innovation occurs. Since the goal is to improve what already works, the problem and domain are pretty easily understood. Satell says using strategic roadmapping and design thinking would be useful in this model.

Breakthrough innovation is when a problem is well-defined but requires a different approach to solve. It requires more open innovation strategies and unconventional skill domains to solve the problem. Particularly, it involves working across paradigms, using what would be common sense in one paradigm to solve a challenge that is much more obtuse in another paradigm.

But sometimes the traditional business model doesn’t help solve the problem and needs modification. Disruptive innovation shifts the focus away from what is normally the best practices and focuses on the structures in place. When the competition changes, the business model should change as well. Steve Blank and Alex Osterwalder’s business model canvas will be useful in this department.

Satell’s final portion of the matrix contains basic research. Innovation doesn’t just pop out of the sky and requires the discovery of new phenomena first. All companies, large and small, can get their hands on public, high-value information, whether from universities or government-funded programs:

Taking steps to participate in these types of programs can help small business compete in competitive markets. For example, Mike Wixom of Navitas, a four-year-old battery company that joined the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) as an affiliate, told me, “As a small company, we’re fighting for our survival on a daily basis. Becoming a JCESR affiliate gives us an early peek at technology, and you get to give feedback about what kinds manufacturing issues are likely to come up with any particular chemistry.”

For further examples of each type of innovation, you can view the original article here:

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