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Master Innovation by First Getting Good at the Basics

By Jennifer Polk | September 11, 2014 | 2 Comments

This week Apple made several important announcements about the debut of its newest mobile devices, from the Apple Watch that could drive more interest in wearable devices to the next generation smartphone complete with a bigger screen and more innovative features. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. There will be enough media and blog coverage of these announcements and the innovation that this technology may or may not bring to consumers lives.

I’d like to talk about permission. Innovation is great. But have you ever wondered why some of your company’s most innovative ideas fail to take off with your customers? Have you wracked your brain wondering if it was the idea itself that was ill-conceived, if perhaps you under-invested in marketing the new idea or if sales didn’t do enough to promote the idea to your existing customers? All of those are certainly possibilities, but I’d like to introduce another potential culprit behind failed innovation.

Before your customers will allow you to introduce innovative ideas into their lives—i.e., claim new territory in their heart, mind or wallet—you have to win at the basics. You have to do a really good job in the territory that you already have. This is true whether your customers are millions of consumers who own and use your mobile devices or whether they’re a small group of manufacturing companies that buy your equipment. If you don’t get the basics right, no one cares how innovative you can be.

Transistor radio, not exactly leading innovation, but highly effective.

So what does this have to do with Apple’s recent announcement?

If you’re the owner of an Apple iPhone 5S, then you should already know the answer to that question. The 5S has been plagued by issues with the battery life, and, although Apple recently agreed to rectify the issues by replacing batteries in those devices, the company has also acknowledged that the battery life in the smaller version of the iPhone 6 will only be marginally better than battery life in the iPhone 5S. People looking for a major improvement in battery life will need to pay extra for the iPhone 6 Plus.

While some of the innovation in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus sounds impressive, Apple will have to earn the right to innovate for those customers who have suffered with basics like suboptimal battery life on the iPhone 5. Yes, I would like my smartphone to have all sorts of new features and functionality, but, most importantly, I need it to turn on…and stay on…for most of the day without having to remain plugged into a charger. What are the basics for your customers?

Companies like Apple that have a heritage in innovation may catch heat for becoming operational, but the key to achieving and maintaining business success lies in commercializing innovation. This requires companies to simultaneously develop and deploy creative ideas, while meeting customers’ more mundane demands. As customer experience emerges as the key to competitive advantage, all aspects of your products and services, must be attuned to meeting customers’ basic and aspirational needs.

 Are you devoting as much time, budget and brain power to exceeding the expectations in these areas as you are winning on innovation? If not, do you really have your customers’ permission to innovate?

Comments are closed


  • Personal Victory precedes Public Victory – Dr. Stephen Covey.
    Your article exactly indicates the above line. Your current customers whom you have been serving actually are part of you, first serve them very well and then go for new customers. Same holds with products, current set of products must be made really really well, before launching new set of products.

    • Thanks for your comment Shivanand. I agree with your first point. It’s much easier to retain a happy customer than to try and attract a new one. And loyal customers can be converted into vocal advocates that help you attract other customers. Regarding the second point, I do believe companies have an opportunity–actually a responsibility–to improve upon their products, which might require them to launch new versions or models of existing products or launch a new product that addresses customer feedback and demand for innovation.