Do we invent or innovate products? Technology invention forms the core of Product Innovation. Although there are many models of digital cameras, the technology core in each camera model is the same—electronic image sensor. We are having an increasing number of models of products around a far fewer technology core. These products have been evolving too. Furthermore, the technology cores of some products change. As a result, already innovated products are reinnovated. For example, gasoline automobile technology core is now reinvented with batteries, motors, and electronics. Hence, all major automobile makers are reinnovating their popular models, turning them into electric vehicles. Besides, through evolution and reinnovation, product innovation migrates across the boundaries of firms and nations.
Product innovation is about developing new products or significantly improving existing ones to get jobs done better. The development of new products begins with the urgency, the knowledge of purposes to be served, and the chosen technology core. The feeding of urgency, knowledge, and technology core to the creative process leads to product innovation; an innovated product caries application-specific features around the preferred technology core. Hence, technology invention is a precursor to product innovation. For example, automobile makers have been innovating market segment-specific different models of automobiles around the preferred technology core—whether gasoline engine or battery-based. Of course, they feed the knowledge about the nature of jobs the target customers want to perform and competition situations to get ideas for features.
Similarly, feeding of mRNA technology invention, knowledge about the nature of Coronavirus, and urgency to deal with it has led to COVID vaccine innovation. However, despite the greatness, opportunities and necessities of improving products keep unfolding, leading to the evolution of a product. Hence, profitable revenue generation demands product innovation management.
Failure statistics of product innovation:
Innovating products is one challenge. The bigger challenge is to ferrate out profitable revenue from the market. According to some statistics, more than 75 percent of products retire before generating profitable revenue. Common factors are how well-innovated products serve the purpose, the cost, and the offerings from the competition. Further, profiting from product innovation also depends on how innovators succeed in evolving products. Besides, there is also a risk of sudden discontinuity due to the emergence of alternate technology core. For example, due to the growth of electronic image sensor technology invention, Kodak suffered a major loss.
Technology invention for product innovation:
The precursor to product development is technology invention. For example, the invention of the gasoline engine-based automobile technology core by Carl Benz opened a new era of innovating automobiles of different shapes and sizes. The continued growth of core automobile technology, better understanding of customers’ preferences, driving jobs to serve different purposes, and competition response led to the introduction of new models and enhancement of existing ones. Similarly, the invention of the Transistor technology core led to new product innovation and also reinnovation of existing products. Among others, transistor technology core powered space maker innovation. On the other hand, Radio, TV, and many other consumer electronics products got reinnovated.
Innovation of new product:
Invariably, every technology invention leads to the innovation of new products. The progression of technology core and our profit-making urgency in serving customers’ purposes better have been leading to an increasing number of new products. For example, around the same technology core invention, different aircraft models have been innovated.
The advancement of technology core, availability of complementary technology, and growing knowledge about customers’ pain points lead to incremental product innovation. It takes place by adding new features, replacing existing features with better alternatives, or enhancing existing features.
Once a product innovation starts showing profitable opportunity, competition responds. They could be in the form of replication, imitation, or incremental innovation. On the other hand, technology advancement, positive externalities, and unfolding infrastructure keep expanding opportunities for adding and improving features. In this situation, to sustain innovation in the market, innovators need to release successive better versions, preferably at less cost. This is one of the underlying causes for successive releases of all major product innovations.
Getting jobs done better and designing thinking:
To reduce the mismatch between what customers need in performing target jobs and features of product innovation, the focus should be on reducing customers’ pain points. Unfortunately, often customers do not know about the preferred features of the product—whether new product innovation or improving existing ones. Hence, innovators should silently observe with empathy to figure latent pain points. Upon doing so, innovators need to scan the advancement of the technology core and complementary technologies for generating ideas. Those ideas may lead to new product innovation or advancement of existing products.
As said, every product innovation takes place around a technology core. Despite continued improvement, every technology invention matures. Hence, to get another wave of growth, inventors proceed to reinvent the technology core. For example, the technology core of the camera was reinvented by replacing film with an image sensor. Similarly, the light bulb technology core went through reinvention. The reinvention of technology core also demands reinnovation of products. Otherwise, product innovation around older technology core will start losing market value. Hence, there is a need for timely reinnovation of products.
Evolution and migration of product innovation:
There has been a race in a competitive market in innovating new products, incrementally advancing them, releasing successive better versions, and reinnovating them. But in this race, not all firms equally perform. Some smarter firms outperform others, resulting in the migration of products across the boundaries of firms and nations. For example, due to superior performance in incremental and sustainable innovation, IBM lost its Hard disk product to Toshiba.
There are many different types of ECG products. But they rely on the same technology invention. For sure, product innovation is different from the invention of a core functioning mechanism. Of course, design thinking helps us in innovating products. But ferreting out profitable revenue from the market also depends on externalities and competition response.
Furthermore, the product life cycle demands incremental and sustaining innovation responses. Sometimes, existing products need to be reinnovated by changing the technology core. In the long run, the life cycle of innovative products takes an episodic form.
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