Revolutionary Vs. Evolutionary Innovation




EVOLUTION (the definition of the word by way of is defined as gradual change, adaptation, progression, metamorphosis.
REVOLUTION is defined as forcible overthrow for an entirely new system…drastic, disruptive, far-reaching, momentous change.

So let’s apply these definitions to the concept of innovation. BOTH evolutionary innovation and revolutionary innovation need to focus on orientation of today’s customers AND tomorrow’s customers to gain traction. BOTH evolutionary innovation and revolutionary innovation are fed by visionary foresight. BOTH are connected to high uncertainty.

Not all firms need both (or can/must manage both).

The Advantages of Evolutionary Innovation

EVOLUTIONARY INNOVATION mounts challenging hill after hill at an even pace, day after day. Evolutionary innovation plans for the world as it could be and begins calculated migration to new ideas while understanding the world as it is today. Revolutionary innovation (particularly unmitigated, first or speed to market revolutionary innovation) can deplete energy and resources; akin to climbing a hill comprised of Confectioner’s sugar. Frenetic pacing over unstable, dramatically varied terrain – forcing change for a new system or idea prematurely while ignoring the realities of today’s market — is a lot more challenging.

We can point to numerous examples where evolution worked and revolution failed in the automotive, energy, technology, and transportation industries. For more, see: Proof that non-linear or revolutionary innovations do not always achieve the most significant advances.

The Facts:

Revolutionary innovation (speed or first to market concepts) is only optimal under the following conditions: high performance products, long product lifecycles, a relatively long window of market opportunity, relatively high sales, stable margins, and relatively flat development costs. Only given these conditions, can companies generate sufficient revenue to offset the increased costs incurred with speed to market and revolutionary innovation.
– Source: “Speed to Market and New Product Performance Tradeoffs,” Journal of Product Innovation Management
There are really only three scenarios in which first to market revolutionary innovation can guarantee a sustainable advantage: (1) if you can secure ironclad patent protection (2) if you can set a proprietary industry standard, or (3) if you can use your lead to establish such a beachhead that even if better options become available, your customers will find it too much of a hassle to switch. In nearly all other cases, best beats first.
– Source: Jim Collins, “Good to Great”

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