Is innovation really that risky?

In a recent article, a professor suggested that in many case Boards of Directors, although preaching the innovation gospel to staff, are in fact reluctant to actually do it because it’s so risky.

I found this comment somewhat unusual because it surely does not apply to all innovations. Indeed one wonders if here we have a problem of understanding what innovation really is, as distinct from perhaps research or “blue sky” thinking.

If we embrace the true definition of innovation as “Change that adds Value” and apply this approach to an already successful product, then risk can be mitigated if not entirely removed.

Clear evidence

For example, consider the famous Rubik’s Cube, a true market success, then apply some opportunistic thinking, by use of the “Opportunity Matrix”, we might discover that unsighted people can’t use this product, no doubt to their great disappointment. With that knowledge, we can then innovate the typical Rubik’s Cube to provide a Braille version. Such a product could be sold with absolutely no market risk and more to the point, the likely market size could be accurately determined with little more than a few phone calls.

Another example may be that of the car intermittent windscreen wiper, again a fabulously successful invention that ultimately made its developer many millions of dollars. With the worldwide success of that product, two obvious no risk innovations can follow, variable speed intermittency and even rain-sensing wipers that start when rain is detected on the windscreen.

The dual blade men’s shaver is yet another example and of course the triple blade that followed and so on.

When it comes to industrial and commercial applications where the financial benefits are clear, innovation can be entirely risk free. Consider for example the innovation to add winglets to the ends of aircraft wings to improve wing efficiency and thus improve fuel economy; or the move from 12 volt to 18 volt then 36 volts for battery power tools giving much more power and longer run time.

Tip of the iceberg!

Of course the critics will say these are trivial incremental innovations. This may be so but they are risk free and in many cases the outcomes of such “trivia” can lead to massive disruption, but more about that in the next article.

The bottom line is that innovation does not have to be risky if done properly. Any Board or CEO that is shying away from innovation on the basis of risk may simply be approaching it with the wrong mindset, the wrong people or more to the point, a flawed methodology,

Roger La Salle,

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