Innovation doesn’t need to be dramatic

A long, long time ago there was a new thing called “blogs”—a kind of page or website run (at that time) by a fairly small number of people. This was when I was working at The Guardian, and to be honest, even though most of my editorial colleagues were very excited about them, I didn’t get it. After all, we had long had discussion forums. This seemed to be just discussion forums with different formatting.

But I was fortunate to be working with Neil McIntosh. He’s a great journalist, is highly atuned to technology (he started his career working for Teletext, no less) and had spent a good chunk of time specialising his MBA in innovation management.

Neil was keen to put reader comments underneath some of our articles, just like blogs, and he used the word “innovation”. I pushed back. It was a signficant change to our system, I said, and there was no obvious innovation given that readers could already express their views in our discussion forums.

But Neil explained the key difference—we had never previously put readers’ comments on the same page as writers’ articles. It was a new way of the two interacting, and we really didn’t know how it would turn out.

Neil’s explanation was simple, but it transformed how I understood innovation.

A change doesn’t need to be wholly transformational to make a difference or be considered an innovation. It doesn’t need to be the invention of the iPhone or internal combustion engine. The smallest tweak to a product can change the dynamic—how people see it, how they use it, how they value it, how it helps them, and more.

Today product discovery is a recognised (if under-utilised) part of the software development process. And experimentation should be continuous, even after the initial product launch. We don’t have to be laboratory geniuses to be innovators. The smallest changes can bring something new.

Photo by CIFOR

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