This is the first of a two-part post. Part II is here.
Ever walked in to a store to buy something only to become overwhelmed or annoyed when a simple errand turns in to a headache of decision making?
Have modern product ranges become so vast that the manufacturers have over-innovated? That was the prime question tackled on this week’s innochat, a virtual weekly meeting held on Twitter by innovation experts and practitioners.
This week’s framing post is here and Gwen Ishmael (@Gwen_Ishmael), SVP Insights & Innovation at Decision Analyst, Inc. in Texas, was the moderator. Her first question: Are there industries or categories that have been over-innovated?
“Food products of all kinds, especially convenience and snack foods. [It's] getting so you can’t find the original anymore,” replied Renee Hopkins (@Renee_Hopkins). “Well, cereal. Maybe also soaps and toothpastes. Household products, for sure,” agreed Cathryn Hrudicka (@CreativeSage). She then added cosmetics and clothing.
“What problem is solved by Honey Nut Cheerios (Now with more honey!)???” Andrew Marshall (@DrewCM) wanted to know. And Hopkins warned of the pitfalls of too much choice. “Isn’t one of the dangers of this over-innovation losing the real customer base that just wants the same kind of cereal?” she asked.
Others questioned if expanding product selections count as innovation. “Much of the excess stuff isn’t necessarily innovation, it’s just stuff,” said Tom Kubilius (@tomkubilius) in Pittsburgh, Penn. “There are industries that have been over productized for sure, but production of more doesn’t necessarily equal innovation,” said David James Ball (@davidjamesball) in London.
Marshall agreed. “The entire CPG sector seems rife with imitators and brand veneering (it’s too little to be called extension in many cases),” he said. Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) in Boston held a similar opinion. “An abundance of choices and features does not equate to innovation. [It's] only innovative if it delivers true value,” he said.
Others took a different tack. “We don’t really see a problem of there ever being ‘over innovation.’ A cycle of new ideas can come from overworking others,” said a rep from Chicago Ideas Week (@chicagoideas).
“I don’t think there can be too much innovation, perhaps just a lack of managing it effectively,” said Kelly Burroughs (@KellyBurroughs) in Montreal.
During the conversation, I wondered if the vast range of products are customer experiments. “I believe so,” Ishmael replied. “Frito Lay intentionally intoduces 50+ SKUs each quarter knowing some will fail.”
Hopkins said “over-innovation might refer to last gasps before new technology takes over.” Marshall asked if “over-innovated solutions [are] a sign that your product has ‘jumped the shark‘?”
Schawn Thropp (@sethropp) said he was “still not convinced that there is such a thing as ‘over-innovated.’ Innovation is key to growth.” And Afshar pointed out that innovation does not necessarily mean “new.” It can be the simplification of an existing solution.
“The real innovation is the one that stands out because its spells out clearly what is its unique value,” said Jose Baldaia (@jabaldaia) in Portugal. Afshar agreed. “If you are unable to articulate a clear value proposition then you may have over innovated your solutions,” he said.
Ishmael then asked if the innovation pipeline can ever be too full.
“A too full pipeline may indicate a lack of a focused strategy,” said David Culton (@davidculton) in Rhode Island. “Innovation resources are precious. Too many projects means they all fail. Companies need to be able to prioritize,” said Kubilius.
“Can I disagree?” Lin Dolin (@Lin_Dolin) in Boston asked. “[You] want a robust pipeline but the process and courage to cull, then develop a good product.”
“The innovation pipeline will only be full if there is no ability to execute or if it is the wrong moment to launch,” Baldaia said.
“I’ve seen pipelines full of ‘zombie projects’ with little real value or alignment with company goals,” Kubilius said.
But Jose Briones (@Brioneja) in Dallas warned about pipelines. The “approach doesn’t work for disruptive innovation,” he said. Only incremental gets through. We need parallel pipelines.”
“Pipeline management is very different in existing markets versus new markets,” said LeAnna J. Carey (@thehealthmaven) in Washington, D.C.
Marshall had a different take on pipelines. “I think of it like a snake trying to digest a large meal. Their metabolism slows down to accommodate the digestion.”
- Image of many milks via Panos Kouros on Flickr.
- Image of Lego man jumping the shark courtesy of Bill Ward on Flickr.