Plotting the innovation trajectory

The key to innovation is asking 'what's next' and to best answer that question it is always helpful to look at the innovations of the past and the key 'enablers' that drove them.

There are many approaches taken to inspire insightful thinking into what may be the next big thing for your industry.

Many struggle with the search for new horizons, but in fact the search can be made a lot easier if you plot what is best termed the "innovation trajectory”.

A good starting point is to first agree that there is always a new horizon, or something better. Indeed the very definition of innovation – "change that adds value” – is founded on this very notion. To argue with this would have you take the view that whatever you use or are doing today will be the same in 100 years, not likely I suggest.

One of the secrets of innovation in any sector is to trace the evolution or development of that industry over time and look at how the offering has changed.

Discover this trajectory and the gradient of the trajectory and then ask, ‘what’s next?'

There is always a next.

Innovation trajectory is similar to a mathematical extrapolation. By extending a known graph or curve we can very likely anticipate its new position and find new insights into the business.

Do this in a systematic way with your present offering, plot the trajectory and see if you can discover the "enablers” and "drivers” and be first with the next innovation, thus leaving others in your wake.

In Roman times mail was delivered by a runner or on horseback, an innovation on this was perhaps smoke signals, or the semaphore. Speed of reliable information delivery has always been of great value.

Indeed it was the promise of speedy mail delivery that essentially underpinned the fledgling airline business and spawned the birth of the aviation industry. Had it not been for mail contracts the development of the airline industry would have been severely handicapped.

If we were to plot the trajectory of mail and parcel deliveries over the past 100 years one thing would stand out as obvious, people value speed of delivery and will in fact pay a premium for speed.

On observing this innovation trajectory with speed of delivery as a driver, and technology as an enabler, some clever entrepreneurs moved to fill the gap of the relatively slow mail services and implemented the overnight courier services. Such was the birth of such companies as DHL, FedEx, UPS and the like.

Speed of delivery via jet aircraft has now plateaued as the speed of transport jets approaches that of the speed of sound. There are now only two presently available solutions to increase this much valued speed:

– faster aircraft and/or faster ground transport;

– faster collection and processing time.

Whilst speed may have plateaued, price has not.

Competition and technology have been the drivers of lower prices for deliveries, and it would seem this trajectory will ever be on a downward slope. Based on this price trajectory and the plateauing of speed, one must question the long terms benefits of being in this business unless some breakthrough innovation is undertaken.

Reuters is another example of a business that "innovated” the delivery of information, simply by offering increased speed.

The telegraph was the first move into electronic signalling and a great innovation. Since then we have seen an explosive growth in speed of data delivery with that now approaching the speed of light. The driver is people’s need to know, the enabler is technology. Speed may have just about plateaued, but data volume has not.

The volume and content is now expanding at a seemingly unstoppable rate. The trajectory of businesses in the communications sector is clearly headed toward volume data coupled with added security using technology as the enablers, and ever lower price, with competition as the driver.

These are classic examples of innovation of services, determine the trajectory, extend the graph and anticipate what’s next, then innovate to fill the void.

Another classic example is the accommodation industry.

Many years ago we had the local "pub” providing low cost accommodation, maybe even with a shower and toilet down the corridor to be shared by guests.

At about that time we also had "guest houses", which were much the same, but not connected to the local hotel. We then moved to fully fitted rooms and top class hotels as well as the low cost local drive up to your room motel. Since then we have seen the burgeoning business of serviced apartments and even apartments at caravan parks.

The question now is: what will be next? How can we innovate the present latest offering in short term apartment accommodation to have an even better offering.

Be assured the astute people in this business are already looking hard at just that, as for many other businesses.

Such innovation based on a plot of the trajectory, a determination of the enablers and drivers should be carried out in a structured way that can produce sometimes quite remarkable insights.

The secret is to learn from the past and try and extrapolate to the future as shown:

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