Evolutionary Innovation

The human body is an amazing machine. If you consider only the bottom line knowing nothing about the process that got us to this point, you would probably say its design is innovative. And yet, we all know we are the result of millions of years of evolution — a long and tedious process with ups and downs. Sure, there were some breakthroughs along the way, but they are just minor events compared to the infinite number of nature‘s trials and errors.

Most people think of innovation as the opposite of evolution. We associate Innovation with a revolutionary event. We have this fantasy of waking up in the morning with a killer idea — something the world has never seen before — and next thing you know it is swiping away every market possible.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Most people think of #innovation as the opposite of evolution. This is a myth. ” quote=”Most people think of innovation as the opposite of evolution. This is a myth.”]

This myth results from seeing the innovation process form its end: we are the users or the consumers of an innovative product or service. And there might be some cases where innovation was more of an occurrence than a process — one moment it wasn’t there, and the next moment there was a fully baked idea. But most innovation stories are just not like that.

Evolution is an essential part of innovation

When the idea to create seempli came up it seemed to come out of nowhere — what you might call an Aha! moment. Only that it wasn’t really. It resulted from seeing different things along the years, thinking about them, considering how to apply them or combine them, and throwing many of them to the recycle bin at the back of my mind. Then, one day, all these ingredients magically created this dish — this idea I “just” thought of.

But that was not the end of the process. From the minute I envisioned the first version of seempli and until this very moment, the platform has never stopped changing. Sometimes the changes are incremental. Sometimes they are a giant leap forward. And sometimes they are just mistakes so the following step would be to backtrack to the previous iteration. It’s an evolutionary process.

Most people would agree that the first iPhone was an innovative product. In fact, it changed the entire industry and with it most of the western world and beyond. Whether you are for this change or against it, you probably agree that it was a revolution. And it was indeed a revolution when you analyze it externally: there was a specific point in time back in 2007 that changed everything.

But from Apple’s perspective, it was a long process — years of concepts, prototypes, trials and errors, bugs, production issues, and God knows what else until that amazing launch day. One of the earlier plans was to launch the iPad first — that was the original goal. The decision to go for a smaller, more portable device, was an evolution of the initial idea. And the iPhone was not the first touch-screen-based device. Even Apple had a former product which was very similar to the iPhone’s concept.

From Apple’s perspective, this was an evolutionary process — more of a journey than an event. And not that the iPhone is not an innovative product. It’s just that innovation does not look the same when you are on the innovative side.

If you aim for a revolution, you might miss it

And yet, when talking about innovation, many still use the term revolutionary. What’s wrong with that?

Well, if you are aiming for an overnight revolution, you will not have the endurance for a longer, slower process — a process which is most likely needed. You might have a killer idea that will never get implemented just because it requires more development and hard work — the less attractive part of innovation.

From an organizational perspective, things are sometimes even more extreme. Organizations often expect “to become innovative” just like that. There’s a meeting, and someone issues a decision, and… Nothing meaningful happens. Because that’s not the way innovation works. At least not in most cases. Innovation requires an organization-wide effort for the long run. It requires a certain organizational mindset. And it often requires patience.

And from the public‘s perspective — the perspective of people observing this innovation “magic” from the outside — innovative evolution is often labeled as “not enough”. “The new [your favorite gadget] is just an incremental improvement, not a revolutionary product” the tech blogs often say. So? Do we really expect a revolution with every new model? Every year? Can’t an evolutionary improvement be innovative? Many believe it can’t. Which creates an unrealistic expectation from companies which translates very quickly to unrealistic expectations from individuals.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Many good ideas will never see the light of day because they can‘t be delivered fast enough or because they are not radical enough. Some of them could change the world — one step at a time. #innovation #creativity” quote=”Many good ideas will never see the light of day because they can‘t be delivered fast enough or because they are not radical enough. Some of them could change the world — one step at a time.”]

The bottom line of this food-chain of expectations is that many good ideas will never see the light of day because they can‘t be delivered fast enough or because they are not radical enough. Some of these ideas could be major improvements to products or services. Some of them could be a turning point for a company. Some might even change the world, just like any evolutionary event changes the world — one step at a time.

Are we willing to waive these ideas because we can’t label them as revolutionary?

This might sound like a naïve monologue. The investors, the tech blogs, and eventually most of us are expecting big-bang revolutions, and unless something radical happens, this will not change soon.

Unless… Unless we adopt an evolutionary approach to this change as well. Let’s start with how we talk about innovation. Let’s start with what we do with our potentially killer ideas. Let’s decide not to play along. Let’s not dismiss every idea that leads to a significant improvement, just because it does not sound revolutionary. Let’s accept the fact that even revolutions rarely happen overnight.

Innovation can be evolutionary. When you look at it internally — from the innovator’s perspective — it often is. If you want to do something innovative, you must accept that.

You’ll never know what you are missing if you don’t.

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