In the 21st century, the line for innovation between “first” and “also-ran” is a dangerously thin one. You can be on top of the world one day and all the way down at the bottom the next.

Just ask BlackBerry, MySpace, Nokia or any of the hundreds of successful businesses that couldn’t keep up the pace and ended up by the wayside.

That being said, there is a way to stay innovative without dropping relevant and bleeding dry on R&D costs. If you look at the “new-wave” big 3: Facebook, Google and Apple, but also at numerous of front runners in their own industry, you’ll see that they are not slowing down.

Meaning: These companies have an innovation strategy. And what they’re doing can be replicated by you.

Now, these particular companies may be outliers, but each industry has numerous organizations that innovate consistently – even as their competition falters.

And it’s fair to say that across all industries, 3 habits consistently put these businesses forward and allow them to achieve breakthroughs again and again.

In this article, we’ll explain what these hacks are and why they work – starting with…

1. Incremental innovation

In a world where 1.79 billion peopleover half of all internet users – use Facebook, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time there were other social networks…

Before Facebook, we had AOL, MySpace, Orkut, Friendster and a few other popular services. Furthermore, Facebook wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg’s first social network-type website. His first was a a “Hot or Not” knock-off for Harvard students called “FaceMash”.

What are we getting at here?

Well, Facebook was a huge breakthrough of a service. However, it was preceded by a multitude of other social networks – including one Zuckerberg himself made. And if you look at any modern technological breakthrough, you’ll find the same pattern. Every massive leap forward is preceded by a series of baby steps that allow us to chart territory, gather information and accrue expertise.

Just consider that…

  • Facebook is still advancing through incremental improvement – to the point that its current form would be unrecognizable to early users.
  • The version of Mac OS that became an instant bestseller in the 90s and early 00s was based on years of R&D made by NeXT: another Steve Jobs company.
  • CRISPR – a new technology that allows precise gene engineering in plants – was preceded by multiple similar proto-technologies, real and hypothesized.

One of the main reason why companies fail is because they are building something the market doesn’t want or need – and usually find out too late in the process. It’s a sad, sad thing. A total disaster – as Trump would say it -.

You want to build products and services that the market will literally pull out of your hands. The only ‘2017’ way to do so is by innovating in a cyclical (Lean Startup) way and by continuously building, testing and adjusting your MVP (Minimal Viable Product). This reflects the very nature of incremental innovation: launch early, gather feedback, improve, repeat.

Now, how can this be applied to one specific business?

Well, essentially, what we should understand is that breakthroughs don’t happen overnight.

It can be tempting to only see the last step that leads to success – but the reality is, every big step can only happen once enough little ones have been made.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. As long as you dare to…

2. Fail. A Lot.

Every great triumph is typically preceded by a whole lot of failure. Thomas Edison tried over 1,000 light bulb designs that didn’t work before finding one that did. In numerous cases, failure led to breakthrough innovation by accident.

As a growth hacking agency that helps companies achieve super-growth through rapid experimentation, we often try strategies that don’t work in order to get to one that does.

The point is the same – and you’ve doubtless heard it countless times. If you want to learn, you’ve got to try. If you’re going to try, you’re going to fail. And that’s just fine, because in that case you learn. The only thing that matters is that you’re always prepared to fail – and that you, to quote Samuel Beckett, “fail better” every time.

This means:

1.Having a systematic, scientific approach to your innovation efforts.
2.Tracking your results, recognize problems and learn from your data.
3.Adjust your product and strive to do better each and every time.

Embracing the possibility of failure is perhaps the best way to achieve incremental improvements in your business. This habit goes hand in hand with our scientific model, and it will synergistically guide you toward breakthroughs.

And if you can’t innovate for whatever reason, there is also the possibility of…

3. Buying Innovation

Sometimes, it’s simply not feasible to innovate internally. That might seem like an odd statement to make, but hear us out.

Innovation should be a business function, just like sales, HR, manufacturing and coding. Depending on the nature of your company, you may be able to innovate at a profit – or not…

And if the latter is true, there’s absolutely no shame in it. Innovation is difficult for well established companies. They are better in optimizing their current business – and make money while doing it – than re-inventing new products or business-models.

Broadly speaking, your company is likely to be more effective at achieving incremental improvements in existing operations. That also means, you’re likely to be less efficient at achieving breakthroughs in areas that you aren’t particularly active or proficient in.

In fact, if you have the luxury not to innovate, you’ll probably have enough capital to achieve breakthroughs by buying other businesses or hiring the necessary people to innovate for you.

And if that seems “wrong” or “like cheating”, consider that the new-wave Big 3 – Apple, Facebook and Google – have all bought technologies despite having some of the best R&D capabilities in the world:

At the end of the day, the way you decide to innovate should be driven by your bottom line: not emotion. Never hesitate to use money to achieve your breakthroughs if you can do so profitably.

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