Innovation and technology are often mentioned in one breath. That seems logical. Renewal always relies heavily on technology. Moreover, successful innovation means implicitly that the innovation is scalable; otherwise it could not be used by large groups. And you require technology for scalable production and distribution. Widespread acceptance of the renewal can only be realized with the use of industrial production (by mechanical innovation) or digital distribution (ICT innovation). This recognition of the technological component of innovation is also reflected in the array of Innovation Awards each year is awarded by various companies and agencies. For example, consider the themes of Accenture or CES or the winners EIT. From this perspective, new technology appears to be the key success factor for innovation.

Quooker’s long breath, waiting for the market

However, not every technological innovation can always be classified under the heading “successful innovation“. At present, for example Quooker is very successful being a producer of an innovative boiling water tap; in the Netherlands 1 of 4 new kitchens comes with their product and also in ‘tea drinking’ England this innovation is very popular. Still, the success of the company (with a current annual turnover of 64 million) is caused mainly by the stubborn tenacity of the owners, than on the actual technology. The company, founded in 1987, has had to peddle for years with their product. In an interview, CEO Walter Peteri says:

When, in the early nineties, Niels asked if I wanted to get into the business, I thought we could get good earnings in a few years, but that didn’t happen. The product was tricky to sell. Consumers were suspicious of it: no one knew it. Would it be safe? Was it not a power guzzler? We had to develop the whole market itself.”

And since not every entrepreneur is willing to conclude multiple mortgages on his house, as did these brothers Peteri, it’s actually a wonder that this innovative crane is currently on the market today.

The best kept secret of the net

This story of Quooker reminded me of a similar experience in the book industry. The web shop 1boek.nl is an initiative of a digital book producer, which uses the same technology as Amazon does. Through this website, marketing, production and distribution come in one hand, and so it’s offering publishers and authors up to 5 times more earnings on a book, sold with a normal retail price. For consumers, the site is a great alternative because each purchased book, even though it is identical to a regular book, can be provided with a personal first page. It allows you to sign the book with your name or logo. Or you can have a personal message printed in. In short: it’s an innovation in the book design, which is not only a personal enrichment of each book that is purchased as a gift or unique property, but at the same time it gives a fairer share to publishers and authors. Simply by shortening the traditional supply chain drastically.

But chances are that you have never bought a book at 1boek.nl. It is not inconceivable that you had never heard of it. That’s because publishers and authors look similarly to this new and complementary sales channel, as consumers and kitchen business did to the Quooker crane. They work only in a very small extent with it; publishers hardly set the content available to 1boek.nl. And thus, the site is currently one of the best kept secrets on the Internet.

Technology is part of innovation, but not the key element for success

Many times, technique is part of an innovation, but it’s not the most important key element for the success of it. Researchers attached at the Erasmus University concludedthat 75% of all successful innovations can be explained by the success of social innovation. Managers who pursue revenue growth via innovation are warned now! If only focused on technology, then the perspective on innovation is too one-sided and then probability it will end up as a failure. A negative example is Kodak. Kodak could barely re-starting from bankruptcy in 2012, with the revenues of sold patents. Once, the company had more than 145,000 employees, and in 1996 Kodak was still good for 16 billion revenue and $ 1.3 billion profit. But the company could not hold the technological lead that it had. With R&D’s narrow focus on technical innovation, the management ignored all what was going on in society. For too long the company continued to lean on old products and services from the previous film and photography era: rolls of film, cameras, photographic paper, developing liquid, development centers and photo shops. As regards external developments, Kodak had eyes only for the developments at Japan’s Fuji and German Agfa, which were the other players in the industry of photo and film. Thus Kodak missed the rise of digital photography, brought by the new entrants in the market, including Canon and Nikon. So despite an impressive R&D budget that enbabled a giant bundle of capturing technical innovations into patents, we can conclude that Kodak has not proved itself to be a successful innovator.

Social innovation is part of an Innovation Framework

To manage and sell innovation successfully, focus must be on broader perspectives. Social innovation is essential. For each company it is necessary that it uses an Innovation Framework, covering all aspects of innovation that are discussed. See the illustration below with the various components of the framework and some sample questions that every manager will need to ask himself, before placing a new technology into the market.

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If you want to know more about the application of an Innovation Framework and the role of social innovation as an element of it: a few weeks’ time my book Innovation management: innovation framework and an audit will appear. Shortly after the launch of the Dutch version, a translated English version will appear. The audit, which is part of this book, explores how a company deals with innovation, from every aspect of the framework. I will publish the 60 statements about successful managing end launching of innovation, which are the basis of the audit, over my LinekdIn channel. Like this article when you’ll find it interesting; share it in your network and sign up as a follower.

IMI Digital Printing Europe

For anyone who is active in the world of digital print, the following: from November 28th till December 1st, IMI Europe organizes Digital Printing Europe in Amsterdam. At that event, I’ll perform as a guest speaker and I show how I developed different business models in Zaandam with the company Scan Laser, by using such a framework.

Managing and selling innovation; the key elements