So what are we ACTUALLY going to do?

I have noticed that as soon as you use the word ‘innovation’ in a conversation, most people immediately assume that you’re talking from the realm of the epic and world changing or the spectacular and breath-taking. Whilst disruptive innovation is important, I think it sits at just one end of a wide spectrum, at an end that receives dis-proportionately large amounts of attention. Let’s spend more time at the other end, the end of the small and the incremental, the quick and the cheap.


The benefits of working in this space are so numerous that, rather than offer any comprehensive analysis or opinion here, I will simply throw up some that stand out for me:

RISK – lower both for resource and the implications of taking a new innovation to a market or society

TIME – quicker in terms of resource, process and seeing results; failing happens quickly

DIFFICULTY – fewer and smaller barriers to innovation process, implementation, roll-out; reduced stakeholder network complexity; smaller technical and conceptual leaps; credibility can be built

So what’s the best way of investigating this sometimes unfamiliar territory? I’m sure there’s a perfect algorithm somewhere that will beautifully describe the most effective and efficient approach. However, I believe we learn most effectively by simply doing, and this point in the spectrum provides an environment that is conducive to just that.

Let’s spread our attention more evenly across the innovation spectrum and allow ourselves to change the way in which we approach things. Whilst time for talking, discussing, meeting, strategising, postulating, hypothesising and analysing can’t be eradicated altogether, why not take some of this time to make sure we answer the question ‘so what are we ACTUALLY going to do?’ ?


  1. Really nice post Jonathan. I don’t have much constructive to say, except that you have very succinctly summarised a lot of important ideas that I’ve been trying to get across as well. The emphasis on actually doing things is particularly important.

  2. ‘Let’s spend more time at the other end, the end of the small and the incremental, the quick and the cheap’ I beg to disagree! As this end of the innovation spectrum is easier to address the ‘market’ is best suited to address it. The other end of the innovation spectrum requires more focused, serious and long-term effort and this requires the big guns of academia, corporations and government aided & abetted by innovation policy and NESTA! I accept that action is very important and that if there is no history of ‘doing innovation’ in an organisation (maybe this is true
    In the public sector?) then maybe the low-end is the place to start. But it is at the other end that we urgently need more focus, better tools, models and ‘innovation in innovation’ (led by the likes of NESTA…) if we are going to deal with the bigger challenges we face and develop beyond current innovation best practice and ‘the market’.

  3. Thanks for your post Tim and thanks Brendan for your thoughts as well.
    I agree that the disruptive end of the spectrum requires focused, serious and long-term effort but what I’m suggesting is that we shouldn’t spend our whole time here. Our ‘innovation portfolio’ if you like, should be spread across the spectrum and we shouldn’t be relying on that one game-changing, disruptive innovation whose ‘arrival’ date is unknown (assuming that it arrives at all, of course). It’s easy to be captivated by the headline grabbing, high profile, ‘exciting’ and disruptive end of the spectrum, making it easier to overlook the benefits of the other end.
    I also don’t see the spectrum as an evolution in innovation i.e. I don’t think innovation should necessarily be approached in a ‘start at the easy end and move towards the disruptive end’ manner. This may well be the approach for individuals and organisations with limited resources and experience, but in an environment that is less limited it would be preferable for there to be projects spread across the whole spectrum running concurrently. There is a spectrum of needs/problems (there are more challenges the just the ‘big’ challenges) so it makes sense that there is an associated spectrum of innovation where we might look for solutions.
    My last point is that I’d be slightly concerned to focus solely on ‘disruptive’ innovation (thereby re-enforcing the idea that when we say ‘innovation’ that we’re talking only about disruptive innvation) whilst at the same time suggesting that ‘the big guns of academia, corporations and government’ are required in this area. This could makes innovation sound inaccessible, exclusive and out of reach for many individuals and organisations, which I think is simply not the case. Yes, people may need help and assistance at times, but everyone can innovate in some way or another and in fact, that is exactly what we’re trying to promote.

  4. Interesting debate, which I don’t think we can separate from the effects of the economic downturn. NESTA and HI Newtork are doing some research into the response of corporate innovators at the moment and initial findings are that whilst there is significantly more innovation aimed at entering adjacent markets (radical)
    the biggest increase in innovation is in incremental improvements! This is beginning to confirm our hypothesis about the changing shape of innovation (see means that both the ‘sexy’ end of innovation (radical) and its more humdrum cousin the increment are both currently in vogue. It is the middle, mainstream innovation projects that are being squeezed.
    I agree with Jonathan that the tendency for ‘innovation’ to be shorthand for big, eye-catching change is to be challenged and that many useful innovations, whether they be humble consumer work-arounds or the advent of mountain biking, tend to be stepwise.

  5. Jonathan, this is a neat post. My sense is that often people ignore how doing little things in dramatically different ways can send important ripples of change throughout the organization. If innovation is about doing something completely different with the intent of creating something better, there is no reason to limit innovation to only big ‘programs’. It’s not just outrageous acts, but also everyday rebellions, that create change.

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