When was the last time you saw or heard the adjective innovative? Was it some innovative idea in your work? Innovative product advertised on TV or radio on your way to work? In the news?
Yeah, innovation has become the ultimate buzzword of the decade. Everyone agrees that it's the key to the future. But what does it mean to be innovative, actually? Is it about being creative? Or maybe original?
What is Innovation?
This is the moment when some inaccuracy appears. When googling innovation you’re coming upon many various definitions. Google's own definition is pretty much useless:
According to the Cambridge dictionary
In that way - every single product is one of the kind - is every single product innovative?
Oxford dictionary also doesn’t help much, with their answer being
The point? Everyone has its own views on what innovation is. It can vary depending on circumstances, and a sector. That is why it is really hard to define.
My favorite, a very concrete defnition of innovation that puts together the words of the world’s greatest innovation leaders:
Innovation is Executing an idea which addresses a specific challenge and achieves value for both the company and customer.
Personally, I like to understand innovation as an improvement, something new that is a real game-changer in a particular field. Innovation should trigger the “wow” effect. Fill the niche in the market - enter the Blue Ocean.
Blue Ocean - The Dream Place to Be Innovative
Wait. What the heck is this Blue Ocean?
It is a place in the market introduced by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne in Blue Ocean Strategy.
The industry not in existence today - the unknown market space. Unexplored and untainted by competition. Entering the Blue Ocean creates new demand, developing uncontested market space instead of fighting over a shrinking profit pool.
How to find the Blue Ocean then? Well, this is tricky. You need the X-factor - innovation. Something that will take you to the deep waters.
Just take into consideration any smartphone gadget - let’s say a selfie stick. It was listed in Time magazine's 25 best inventions of 2014. Depending on who you talk to - there are either an innovative product or yet another useless thing you see every day on the streets.
Fun tact: Selfie stick has been banned at conctert venues, museaum, galleries, historical sites, theme parks and sporting events.
But well - you have to admit that you’ve taken a selfie with it. Come, one - at least once. Even if you don’t want to admit to taking a selfie it most probably served you as an arm to your phone while taking a landscape picture.
Wayne Fromm, the inventor of a modern selfie stick holds original patents for this gadget created for compact cameras and smartphones. How he came up with the idea? He got simply tired of asking strangers to take a photo of him and his daughter while there were travelling.
Little he has expected - and has bever pictured the stick boom. With the boom, many copycats have appeared. Wayne created a brand new place in the market of smartphone gadgets. But once blue, this ocean is bloody red now. There are way too many selfie stick producers right now (I mean - just check Aliexpress….).
How to find your own Blue Ocean?
Being innovative and finding the right, niche piece isn’t an easy game to play and doesn’t happen often. In fact, I think this is the reason why innovation has so many definitions and it is understood differently among entrepreneurs. We all want to be innovative so we’re adjusting the meaning of being innovative to our needs - just to fit into the innovative world.
So the question needs to be asked - is creating yet another version of already existing product an innovation?
You can use different (innovative :)) ways to produce them, you can improve the original version or some unique features. But would this product be innovative?
According to our example - is the improved version of a selfie stick an innovation? After all, you will be entering the red ocean full of competitors fighting over the customers.
The Red Ocean - Not So Red As It's Painted
Red Oceans are described as industries already in existence today. And it is the cut-throat competition that turns the ocean bloody red. Marketspace gets more and more crowded every day, making it really hard for newcomers to breakthrough.
Yet, every red ocean once had its blue days. The innovators've created a very new place in the market. With the increased demand for the product of the market and its growth - here come the competitors. And the ocean is getting more and more crowded - it will be red soon.
Why so many enter the Red Ocean?
No matter how many fish in the sea it feels so empty without me - just to quote Eminem.
We all think that our project is the one. The best one. The most innovative one. We have a completely new view on a matter. And we can check the competitors and examine the market. Why we shouldn’t enter the Red Ocean if we’re better then the other? After all, the presence of the competition is usually considered a positive aspect of the industry.
Back to our selfie stick example: on eBay only, there are 24 550 (and growing) selfie sticks to choose from. Crazy, huh?
You would be surprised how many versions of this accessory you can find online and how they differ price-wise. There are some connecting to the device by Bluetooth, ones with remote button, extendable, non-extendable, telescopic, tripod, monopod. Not even to mention how the design and colors vary.
The Art of Being a Copy Cat
If you’ve decided to enter the filled-with-competition space you need to do it right. There will be no re-takes.
It is really common in today’s economy that the competitor-version of the original product became more popular. Was it entering the blue ocean with a new innovative idea? Not really - this competitor saw all the pros and cons of the product and did his best to create the best version of it.
There are many imitators that have promoted their product under the innovative world, but they were not the first ones to show up in the market niche.
You can treat his article as an introduction to a series about the innovators and imitators. I’ll do my best to take you to the open waters of different markets - both red and blue oceans. Stay tuned!