The Over-Innovator’s Dilemma

photo of too much orange juice

Part I of this innochat can be found here.

It sounds initially like it might be too much of a good thing. A bit like over-indulging at Christmas or Thanksgiving. Over-eating. Over-indulging. But over-innovating? Is such a thing possible?

Normally, I’m happy to sit, listen in on the weekly innochats, and then maybe write up a straight report. But last Thursday’s session had me scratching my head about the nature of innovation. Because the basic question being asked was, is it possible to have too much of it?

Worse yet, the examples used were all consumer products so innochat participants could approach the issue from two sides: First as experts in their field and secondly as everyday consumers.

As a result, this one had me going back to basics. First up was a review of the definition of innovation. “Creativity that ships,” as the late Steve Jobs famously described it. The Wikipedia definition says it is “the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society.”

By those definitions, a new, slightly lower-sugar, marginally less fatty, in a kinda different box, breakfast cereal that sells is innovative. Intuitively, however, I have a hard time calling that new variant innovative.

That problem had me going back to my MBA Marketing class notes because the examples being tossed out brought to mind product line extensions. This is where manufacturers use an existing brand name to bring in a new product in the same category.

I did some quick Googling of the term “product line extension” and searched the pages for the word “innovation.” It was notable by its absence. Interestingly, it would seem the Marketing experts who put together those web pages do not define product line extensions as innovations.

Yet it is very easy to argue that the first cereal variants were innovative. The first manufacturer, for example, who spotted a new trend among weight-conscious consumers stole a march on competitors by introducing a “low-sugar” or “diet” version of the product. But now everyone is doing it to such an extent that it is now de rigeur to have low-sugar/carb /cholesterol/badness versions of manufactured foodstuffs.

As the innochat meetup noted, this proliferation is particularly noticeable in consumer products. Gwen Ishmael (@Gwen_ishmael) provided a very long list of Kellogg’s cereal offerings on the innochat blog post. Special K, for example, has 11 different varieties of that brand alone.

And how about the venerable Rice Krispie? It was first introduced in 1929, according to Wikipedia. Since then, 14 variations have ducked in and out of the product line. Apples, strawberries, cocoa, honey, marshmallow, jumbo and razzle dazzle have all made an appearance in the name.

As Andrew Marhsall (@DrewCM) asked, “What problem is solved by Honey Nut Cheerios (Now with more honey!)???”

And that led to what I considered the key question of this week’s innochat: How can we differentiate between meaningful innovation and change for the sake of change?

“That’s the money question, isn’t it,” said Brenda Young (@4byoung) in Tampa, Fla. “Lots of changes can paper over lack of innovation,” she added.

“Meaningful innovation is useful, relevant and sustainable,” said Jose Baldaia (@jabaldaia).

“Meaningful innovation is for the customer or client. Change for the sake of change demonstrates lack of touch with the market,” said Lois Martin (@LoisMarketing).”I’m concerned that the pace of information today creates a false need for constant innovation in everyone and everything.”

“Meaningful innovation brings change for the better,” said a rep from OneDesk (@OneDeskApp) in Montreal.

On change versus innovation, John Lewis (@JohnWLewis) said, “I am telling people that change is ‘imposed’ whereas innovation is ‘exposed’.”

“I’m pondering your question,” Marshall replied. “Great turn of phrase, but I don’t necessarily buy the imposition of change,” he added.

“Well, there is often a felling that ‘change management’ involves imposing change from above,” Lewis countered.

He had a backer with Baldaia. “I agree! Change is ‘imposed’ and brings pain. Innovation is ‘exposed’ and brings relief,” he said.

“Meaningful lies in the eye of the beholder,” said Tom Asacker (@TomAsacker). “But which beholder is most important?”

“It is meaningful innovation if it helps bolster customers’ loyalty and commitment,” said Vala Afshar.

The “customer is the ultimate arbiter of whether a new product or service is a tweak or a transformation,” Saul Kaplan (@skap5) said. But Steve Koss (@SteveKoss) disagreed. “There are times when you decide and see the need before a customer sees the radar,” he said. “If a company just invented a process that would reduce the price of cigarettes by 95 percent – is that a meaningful innovation,” Asacker asked. “It is to the user.”

Photo “too much orange juice” courtesy of manwithface on Flickr.

3 thoughts on “The Over-Innovator’s Dilemma

  1. Pingback: John P. Muldoon » Is There Such A Thing As Over-Innovation?

  2. Excellent, John. Thank you for reporting on the #innochat conversation.

    Before the chat, we have the framing post (at, written by the moderator, which sets out the subject area and the questions to be considered, and this serves an important purpose for participants. After the chat, the transcript provides factual recording of the messages; yet there are so many messages and so much intertwined conversation, mixed with some retweeting for emphasis, some explanations for clarification and some humour (for humanity!), that it is difficult for anyone to follow the threads, even if one “was there”.

    Your “match reports” pick out important threads of meaning running through the message flow in ways which distill some important points and viewpoints from the chat. Perhaps you are starting a new form of internet commentary or journalism by covering online conversations and making sense of online events, especially for the benefit of non-participants. Of course, there are opportunities for others to write their own reports too, as there is usually plenty of interaction to discuss during the hour of a chat.

  3. Thanks John. I appreciate the kind comments.
    I agree. The #innochat conversations can be fast moving at times with a lot of ideas and forked threads being generated. They chats are well worth sitting in on, and I find that even minimal interaction such as a “hello, everybody” or a couple of re-tweets, is a great way to maintain engagement.
    There may indeed be a new form of internet journalism in extracting the main stories from these conversations. It’s part of the challenge of the internet, isn’t it? How do we extract value from all the information out there?

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