The spectrum of innovation within an organization.
Innovation is a term that we hear very frequently, so much so that it is even sometimes difficult to distinguish whether we are talking about continuous improvement or, in itself, innovation. To begin, let’s start from the MIT definition of innovation as the process of taking ideas from their inception to their impact.
An idea is the coincidence between a problem and a solution (Murray, 2019). Ideas are the center of innovations, depending on how good the idea is, it will be the impact that innovation can have. An idea can be focused on solving a problem or creating solutions (R&D, technologies, etc.) that can later be connected to problems that need to be solved, and if the idea considers a close relationship between problem-solution, the greater the impact of the innovation.
For these ideas to really have an impact, it is necessary that they follow the innovation process, which can be present as small incremental innovations focused on solving existing problems or adapting existing solutions to new problems, this is called Little “i” innovation at MIT Sloan. When the approach is more revolutionary towards new research and developments, scientific discoveries, cutting-edge technology, advances on the frontier of science or finding new solutions that are based on technology in a disruptive way, they call it Big “I” innovation. (Budden, 2019)
Betting on the Big “I” Innovation definitely requires more efforts and resources with a higher level of risk, while Litte “i” innovation, although it implies a lower risk, its importance lies in promoting innovative behaviors throughout the organization.
It is important to note that undoubtedly technology inspires innovation, however, innovation can go beyond technology, it can also be present in new models, processes, or strategies. And it is also important to note that innovation does not depend on one person or it is not just a moment, it is a whole process that involves different actors and takes time.
To apply these concepts, we are going to land them on examples from the food industry. First, let’s visualize a food service company that as part of a new strategy has considered its digital transformation, as well as new processes that will allow it to optimize its operation, without a doubt this innovation will open new markets, help reach a larger audience and even increase their sales, all this through a culture change supported by technology (Litte “i” innovation). On the other hand, let us consider a company focused on the development of nutritional supplements and specifically the development of a new supplement for pregnant women that allows them to provide better nutrition for her and her baby, this new innovative food will require research, development, pilot tests, analysis of the results and scientific validation (Big “I” Innovation), which will imply more time, risks and resources, however, if this solution can be connected to a market need, its impact could be worldwide.
In conclusion, innovation within an organization can span a spectrum of innovation from Litte “i” innovation to Big “I” Innovation; However, it is very important to have identified in which part of this spectrum each actor / area / department of an organization is, because the tools, resources, and skills necessary to achieve its goals depend on it. If the expected level of innovation is understood and clarified, it will be easier to implement the innovations and, above all, begin to visualize even how to connect with other actors outside the organization to achieve objectives of much greater impact.