Innovation is one of the most used buzzwords in global business today, but exactly what it means can be confusing

Every business leader agrees that it is important. But nobody can quite seem to agree on what it actually is or what it means.

A recent study by Nick Skillicorn, founder and CEO of IdeatoValue, found 15 leading innovation experts returned 15 different answers.

We produced this word cloud to pull out the most common words the 15 experts used to explain innovation


And here it is the result…innovation really is…

The implementation of new ideas that add value to customers’ lives (and the business)

Let’s break this down

1. New Ideas

Coming up with new ideas doesn’t mean waiting for some random lightbulb moment. Good ideas don’t just happen! More often, new ideas result from thinking differently about how to approach existing behaviour or problems

As Callum Alexander points out on his Medium post, many of the so-called breakthroughs of human achievement are actually the product of years — sometimes centuries — of prior knowledge and technology.

Henry Ford’s Model T Ford, the world’s first mass-produced car, leveraged existing technology in a different way.

Both the factory assembly-line and cars were components that already existed, Henry Ford just had the insight to combine the two.

Simple, beautiful design and easy-to-use interfaces already existed in mobile technology in 2007

But when paired with intuitive software, Apple was able to spark a global revolution in mass-market cellular devices

Even machine learning, the enabler of much of the technological transformation we are experiencing today, combines often centuries old statistical theories with today’s enormous computational power


DO: think about ways you could improve existing behaviours or processes

DON’T: just wait for the lightbulb coming on

2. Adding Value to Customers Lives

The phrase ‘the customer is the ultimate CEO’ is even more true than ever. Our businesses thrive and can die on the back of our customers’ loyalty

Dedicating ourselves to adding value to their lives is our best guarantee of success

Common to both the Model T-Ford and Apple iphone was purity of purpose that was rooted in improving the world.

Ford made the world mobile, while Apple connected the world. Both transformed customers’ lives in ways they couldn’t have previously imagined


DO: Make sure your purpose is oriented around your customer

DON’T: Organise your purpose around yourself or your product

3. Implementation

Any great idea is only ever as good as how well it is implemented. Making innovation commercial relies heavily on how well you implement. Here is our basic guide for turning an idea into a reality and making it commercial

a. Analyse the opportunity as an investor would

Ask yourself:

Who is your potential target audience? And what is the market viability?

What potential value do they represent for your business idea? And what is the risk?

Get the opinions of people with know the market &/or key competitors. Their practical expertise, and that of target customers, will help you estimate the likelihood of idea success.

b. Minimum Viable Product

If you wait until you have moulded your idea into a rolls Royce version, you might never make it to market

Simplify your offer to a bare minimum offering that you can actually get to market. A bare minimum offering should show your target consumer what the product is or will eventually be.

Think about what facebook and google were like 10 years or even 20 years ago, and where they are today. Constant change and development is key to keeping your great ideas fresh and relevant


DO: Analyse the potential of your new idea

DON’T: Wait until you have the ‘Rolls Royce’ version of your idea before you implement

Who’s making innovation commercial?

Tech titans like Amazon and Alibaba give us an almost endless list of commercially sounds innovations to be in awe of. But their scale is so huge it is difficult for us to relate to.

We thought it would be good to finish with a quick  look at how some smaller retailers (relatively) have successfully embraced innovation and made it commercial.

  1. Warby Parker

Back in 2016, the Wall Street Journal estimated that Warby Parker was making an impressive $3,000 per square foot, or in our terms, an eye watering $30,000 per square metre. From opening stores that look like bookstores to bringing expertly trained employees equipped with consumer data into their spaces, Warby Parker  truly commercialised innovation.

2. Brandless

Launched just last year, Brandless removes what it calls ‘BrandTax’, or the hidden cost you would pay for any other brand, in the creation of high-quality, non-GMO products that only cost a couple of dollars.

Describing itself as ‘a group of thinkers, eaters, doers and lovers of life with big dreams about changing the world’, it’s clear Brandless is a company with big ambition.

In May its co-founder Ido Leffler reported the company is experiencing “phenomenal” performance in its food category

3. Casper

Launched in 2014, Casper has revolutionised the way in which consumers purchase mattresses online.

Casper recently made the leap from online-only to brick-and-mortar, with its new store featuring six miniature bedrooms where consumers can sample the products.

Casper had sales of $1 million in its first month. In its first two years this New York City company  raised $70 million in venture capital, grew to 120 employees, and hit $100 million in cumulative sales

4. Glossier

Founded in 2014, this cult brand has amassed quite the following. When it comes to physical retail specifically, its success lies in bringing its incredibly active presence on social media to an offline setting and creating an environment that feels more like an Instagrammable gallery than your typical busy beauty store.

The 150-person company closed a USD $52 million Series C funding round in February. It doesn’t disclose its revenue numbers, but it tells us Glossier saw three times as much revenue in 2017 vs 2016. It also opened offices in London and Montreal

5. Casa Perfect

Breaking boundaries in thinking about what a retail experience really is,  Casa Perfect offers a private shopping experience that is actually housed in a private home. Casa Perfect offers a curated and private space in which everything is for sale, creating a unique and unrivalled retail experience.

Designed to be a 100% private experience for the brand’s clients, the openings are said to be a new breed of showroom. Casa Perfect’s latest opening was in the former home of Elvis Presley, signalling Casa Perfect is one to watch.


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