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The three flavours of innovation

If you go out and ask the average person on the street to list their top five most innovative companies then it’s highly likely that the same names will crop up time and time again but what people may not realise is that the journeys those organisations took to develop their innovative new products or services are often radically different. While there will always be shades of grey organisations commonly follow one of three radically different paths in order to develop that next mass market blockbuster.


Need Seekers

Need Seekers include organisations such as Airbnb, Apple, eBay, GE, Nike, Procter and Gamble, Stratasys and VMWare and while this category can be the most financially rewarding it also the most difficult to be a part of. Need Seekers are those organisations who are continually scanning the horizon trying to identify, create and lead trends and markets that don’t exist yet. The quintessential original innovators Need Seekers develop new, innovative products and services because they have evolved tools, methodologies and cultures that help them predict their customers’ needs and desires better than they can themselves.

Speak to anyone on the edge of innovation and they will tell you that in order to create the next great mass market you need to be able to get inside people’s heads, ask open questions about their lifestyles and run survey after survey but do this and your new products and services will more than likely end up in the dustbin of history.

Need Seekers are unrelenting Observers. They watch everyone and everything all the time, paying attention to the small and seemingly irrelevant things as well as the giant Elephants in the room. They remove all of their prior beliefs, experiences and preconceptions and approach innovation with a Jobs to be Done philosophy.

One of the simplest philosophies to understand but perhaps one of the most difficult disruptive innovation techniques to get right the Jobs to be Done philosophy looks at the world around us through a different lens – one where people use products or services because it helps them complete a Job. For example, people don’t go out and buy a hammer because they want to drive a nail into a piece of wood they go and buy a hammer because they want to join two pieces of wood together so here the Job to be Done is joining two pieces of wood together. By focusing on the Job, not the tools, Need Seekers can suddenly see a wealth of new opportunities to create new and alternative products and services that disrupt the status quo.


Trend Watchers  

It can easily be argued that at least four fifths of organisations fall into this category and that they fall into one of two innovation types – Primary, or Secondary Innovators. Trend Watchers are those organisations that create products and services that help them take advantage of trends, such as Wearable Technology, that are already starting to appear in the market place.

Primary Innovators, sometimes also known as Fast Reactors are those organisations, such as Belkin, Cadbury, HTC, LG, Nest, Samsung and Steam that identify the trends just as they’re emerging and who manage to allocate the right resources to create new innovative products or services, or adapt existing ones, that help them get first mover advantage. Meanwhile Secondary Innovators are more often than not happy to follow the lead laid down by the Primary Innovators or Need Seekers – never disruptive and never first to market they’re slow to react to emerging trends often coming out with cheaper, copycat products that show little or no imagination whatsoever.


Star Gazers


The last, but not least, category are the Star Gazers such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, SpaceX, Tesla and Virgin. Even though they innovate in different ways Need Seekers and Trend Watchers have one thing in common – they want to produce their organisations next blockbuster but Star Gazers are those organisations that want to tackle some of the worlds’ biggest challenges – ones that fundamentally change our society for the better forever.

The Star Gazers approach to innovation is very different to those of our other two categories – they take a long term Macro view where the other two take a short to medium term Macro and Micro view of their respective market places. Star Gazers are focused on innovating solutions that wipe out famine, eradicate illiteracy, eliminate the water deficit and that take us off planet to embrace our next great adventure as a space race and if they can monetize it and commercialize it then all the better.

These types of organisations are rare, verging on the philanthropic, but they are always incredibly well funded and it’s this funding, normally to the tune of billions of dollars, coupled with insightful leaders that allows their employees to go and create concepts and design solutions for arguably some of the boldest challenges on, and off Earth.



Managed correctly innovation has the power to change society and humanity forever but innovation is a journey and everyone’s journey is different. Some organisations want to change the world while others are happy being Secondary Innovators so if your organisation practices innovation, or is interested in developing an Innovation Team, we recommend that you carefully asses each category and choose the one that aligns best with your organisations resource availability, core values and vision.

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