That illusive innovation

Innovation is one of the key criteria for judging the products that are selected as our 150 Product of the Year Finalists. Each year, our screening judges are asked to evaluate the products submitted primarily on the basis of usefulness in plant engineering work and innovation. The dictionary defines innovation simply as "1.
By Richard L. Dunn, Editor November 1, 2003

Innovation is one of the key criteria for judging the products that are selected as our 150 Product of the Year Finalists. Each year, our screening judges are asked to evaluate the products submitted primarily on the basis of usefulness in plant engineering work and innovation.

The dictionary defines innovation simply as “1. The act of introducing something new. 2. Something newly introduced.” A study by Cheskin and Fitch: Worldwide says that most executives describe innovation as a “solution” that addresses the unmet needs of customers or as “progress” that offers an improvement. I personally like the definition offered by InnovationNetwork: “people creating value by implementing new ideas.”

Another recent study on innovation by consulting giant A.T. Kearney emphasizes a number of contradictions when it comes to how companies view their levels of innovation. Kearney points out, for example, that most companies say they’re above average in innovation. The study goes on to report that nearly 70% of executives claim their companies are more innovative than the competition and that fewer than 10% admit to being less innovative. Obviously, many companies are not realistically assessing their positions regarding innovation.

The study also reports that “More than two-thirds of survey respondents cite the development of breakthrough products and services as a high priority. Yet fewer than 25% of their innovation projects are focused on ‘new to the market’ efforts. Instead, the vast majority of the major innovation projects the typical company undertakes annually… can be grouped into three less-than-innovative categories: derivative or minor extensions of the current product line; cost-saving innovations on current projects; and new to the company, but not new to the market.”

The Kearney and the Cheskin and Fitch studies agree that much of today’s innovation is reactive, driven by customer needs or competition. “Whether the innovation is iteration or a breakthrough,” Cheskin and Fitch reports, “what matters is how responsive [companies] are, how focused they are on what matters to their market, and how well they’re able to infuse the spark of creativity into everything they produce.”

In any case, the market is the most important driver of innovation. Cheskin and Fitch goes so far as to say that “an innovation’s success is judged primarily by the sales and revenue it generates and the customer feedback on it.”

So we commend to you this year’s 150 finalists in our Product of the Year Awards and ask that you provide your feedback by voting for the most useful and innovative. By so doing, you’ll not only recognize the innovation in these new products, you’ll also encourage more innovation for next year’s awards.