Making Innovation Matter
By Mark Johnson
In a recent series of TV ads, Post Cereals declares that it put the "no" in "innovation" by refusing to alter the 118-year-old recipe for its Shredded Wheat cereal. "We're doing the right thing—nothing," proclaims one of the ads. In another ad, Frank Druffel, the fictional CEO, enthusiastically hires a job candidate to lead product development because the candidate has no skills or experience and can therefore be trusted not to change a thing. It's funny stuff, and probably the right move for a basic food product.
Whether intentionally or not, the ad taps an undercurrent of skepticism that I hear from time to time about whether innovation might just be overrated. The question, however, is not whether innovation matters, but how to make it matter more.
Creativity, by itself, is not enough. As I've previously written in this space, inventions that aren't commercialized—no matter how creative—remain inventions, not innovations. To be commercial, an invention needs to matter enough to a customer to be worth paying for. And what matters to most customers is not the invention itself but what job it enables them to do that they couldn't do, or do well enough, before. The microwave, for example, when it was first introduced, was a terrible oven, but it was fantastic defroster—and to many customers it was worth quite a lot to be able to keep food safe in the freezer until moments before they cooked dinner rather than have to think about it the morning or the night before.