The word innovation gets tossed around a lot. So much in fact, it devalues the true meaning of the word.
The word "innovation" often gets attached to things that often seem to be nothing more than "marketing gimmicks."
Look no further than MillerCoors. Is the Miller Light Vortex bottle really an innovation? What about Coors Light's hole-cut-in-the-box-to-be-able-to-see-blue-mountains?
And during my last trip to the grocery store, I noticed that they finally found a way to make pepperoni smaller.
I said, what stupid marketing gimmicks? That's too simple and cheap to be innovative. It's gimmicky.
That's not innovation. Real innovation changes the world in one swoop. Innovations are big, complex and far-out things, right? They make front page headlines and get everyone talking. Today, they involve satellites, digital gizmos and confusing code written by engineers. Or at least an internet connection.
I spent a lot of time this past week thinking about what makes a true innovation.
I decide on two criteria:
(1) An innovation makes life easier, faster or better in someway.
(2) An innovation lasts. Whether through time or widespread recognition.
It's debatable whether a hole in a case of beer will make my life better in anyway. However, it might be quite useful to others (now a bartender can tell before bringing the case from the cooler to the bar). Just like an ipod and itunes may improve my life tremendously but not someone who doesn't consume music that way. They're out there.
I know they're out there. In fact, a commentator on the blog (from the first link above) argues that Steve Jobs and Apple haven't created any innovations since the Newton was invented. The other commentator's attack and call him idiot but he's right. Consumerism is still very personal; marketers please take note.
Thus, if innovation is personal, the second criteria holds the key to differentiating silly gimmicks from innovations. Will it last; in time or in space.
If the beer case if dead next summer then it will be difficult to claim real innovation. However, in the early 2000's Coca-Cola created the refrigerator friendly 12 pack. It made grabbing a Coke from the cooler easier and saved fridge space at the same time. Of course, the true innovation was adopted by lots of drink brands and is still used today.
Perhaps a less messy way to consider true innovation is that it's a glimpse into the future. The odd thing is that the very best innovations eventually become the most ordinary objects or moments as we are exposed to them longer and more often.
Think seat belts for instance.