What qualifies as an innovation? Does it have to be something big, or does something more modest still count?
Last fall, right around the time we were asking our readers to help us choose association innovators to feature in this issue, I came across an article by Wall Street Journal columnist John Bussey covering a debate in the business community about what, exactly, qualifies as innovation.
Specifically: Does innovation imply major, groundbreaking transformation, on the order of the iPad or the hybrid vehicle? Or can it be smaller, more incremental change?
As an example of the latter, Bussey cites Proctor & Gamble’s launch last year of ZzzQuil, a new sleep aid P&G created by removing the cold medicine in its popular NyQuil product, which the company knew consumers were using to help them sleep even when they weren’t sick. With a simple recipe adjustment, ZzzQuil was born.
Some have said the change was nothing to write home about, but I was struck by what Patrick Barwise, coauthor of a book on innovation called Beyond the Familiar, told Bussey: “People have made a fetish of what you might call innovation with a capital ‘I.’ The reality is when you look at companies that produce long-term organic profit growth, a huge amount of what they do is incremental innovation.”
It strikes me as a smart idea for associations to invest in innovation even on a small scale. The key is meeting a need. The solution you hatch doesn’t have to make the earth move; it just has to make your members see how much they need you. That’s where member retention, and ultimately growth, come from.
The innovators in this issue have something to teach about embracing change.
Are they adventurous groundbreakers or smart evolutionaries? You be the judge.