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Innovation and Iteration

Don’t mistake one for the other

On June 29th 2007 your life changed. You may not have realised it but it did. That was the day, a little over ten years ago when the first generation Apple iPhone went on sale to an expectant public. This ushered in the entire smartphone revolution, which we have all become a part of.

The iPhone had been announced by Apple many months earlier who with the legendary product showmanship of their late CEO Steve Jobs, guaranteed that it would change your life. This first generation iPhone came with a full colour touch screen, a camera, plenty of storage, WiFi, Bluetooth, it synced with your music, photos, contacts calendars, you could send emails from it, text messages and browse the web. Oh, and it also made phone calls. 

Fast forward to today and what does the current iPhone provide, well it comes with a full colour touch screen, a camera, plenty of storage, WiFi, Bluetooth, it syncs with your music, photos, contacts calendars, you can send emails from it, text messages and browse the web. Oh, and it also makes phone calls.

So, is the iPhone still innovative or is it now in a natural phase of just continued product iteration? Apple developed a hardware platform, plus a software eco system - the App Store - that all other phone makers have followed, but whilst this product and those it competes against are still incredible products, they are no longer innovative.

…true innovation is bringing things together, things that may have already existed in the market…

True innovation is bringing things together, things that may have already existed in the market, and blending them in fundamentally new ways to further a chosen cause. 

Another example, one that is gaining greater and greater prominence is electric cars. Cars as we know have been around for a hundred years or so, between then and relatively recently they have been caught in a continued phase of iteration, with the original innovation of a ‘motorised carriage’ being almost committed to history. The electric cars initial innovation is that it is using a different fuel, electric power over that derived from fossil fuels. With this ‘innovation’ comes the reduction of moving parts and the negation of many established technologies such as gearboxes. But is that innovation or again just iteration of an established product?

Here the true innovation of electric cars will be the computer related assistance that appears to be going hand in hand with its development, that provides such space age functionality: autonomous driving. In another ten years time, when we look back on the initial history of the electrification of personal transport, it will be the control systems that will take the headlines, as opposed to the change in fuel.

What this means for the innovator, regardless if they are in a product based or service based market is that whilst iteration is required, else they will be at a competitive disadvantage, true innovation requires deep thinking and a bringing together of established technologies into an entirely new concept.

…they had a vision in their minds and the motivation to make it a reality…

Both of these examples, the iPhone and the autonomous driving capabilities of electric cars, have something else in common. Nobody asked for them. These were designed, built and brought to market by a team of dedicated individuals who believed that ‘things’ could be done better. They poured time, money, resources, heart and soul into wanting to move the world forward - not in little baby steps of iteration - but in big bold steps of innovation. They cared about changing things for the better. They were not concerned with focus groups, market appraisals, consultants and independent research. They had a vision in their minds and the motivation to make it a reality.

Once these products, children of true innovation, hit the market they shake things up, negating what had gone before and confidently striding into a brave new world. A world that can then not go back to what had gone before, a world that has forever changed. 

…the innovators have pushed their product into the iteration stage and are considering their next big move…

The market and the established players within, react to such innovations firstly with derision, then with acknowledgement, then with panic as they attempt to catch up. Meanwhile the innovators have pushed their product into the iteration stage and are considering their next big move. 

What does this all mean? Innovation is the big bold steps that makes a dream a reality, whereas iteration is the continual process of refinement and enhancement. Iteration cannot occur without the initial innovation and innovative products will not live for very long without iteration. They are separate entities but with a symbiotic relationship. 

So for the innovators of Worcestershire out there, ask yourself are your innovating or iterating? And don’t worry if it’s the latter, because that is exactly what Apple has been doing for the last ten years.

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WINN brings innovators together, acting as a catalyst to create connections and collaborations across the diverse business landscape of Worcestershire.

Our belief is that great things can happen when people get together.

WINN is a Worcestershire Innovation Programme formed by Worcestershire County Council and the Worcestershire LEP

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