Quick, how many types of innovation are there? Did you answer one? Unfortunately, a concept like innovation is not possible to define that easily. But that will not stop us from trying.

Organic/Evolutionary Innovation

Evolutionary innovation tends to be slow and focused on adaption rather than disruption. When innovating in an evolutionary manner, the focus is on incremental and linear improvements, not on creating new markets. Evolutionary innovation is the backbone of most businesses, and what makes products valuable for consumers.

Example of evolutionary innovation

Toyota is a great example of evolutionary innovation in practice. At the focus on Toyota’s brand and development is the Japanese word kaizen. Kaizen translates as continuous improvement, which is an evolutionary innovation by another name. This focus is expressed by Toyota’s focus on long-term solutions that customers of today are interested in. They are not attempting to reinvent the car or create a product that will disrupt the entire car market. Instead, Toyota focuses on building better cars for already existing markets.

Another example of evolutionary innovation is both the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. These three products were not the first in their respective markets. Instead, Apple took already existing products and enhanced them to markets that already existed.

Breakthrough/Revolutionary Innovation

While evolutionary innovation might be the backbone of most companies, revolutionary innovation is the backbone of most innovation. Without these unexpected inventions, there would be nothing to create incremental innovation off. Revolutionary innovation, while unexpected, does not have a tangible effect on already existing markets, neither does it create new ones.

As one blog explains it:“Revolutionary Innovation seeks to adapt the world to new ideas”.

Nevertheless, revolutionary innovation is incredibly important, as it feeds both evolutionary and disruptive innovation. Evolutionary innovation uses the products and processes created by revolutionary innovation to make incremental innovation. Similarly, many examples of disruptive innovation have been based on revolutionary innovation.

Example of revolutionary innovation

An example of revolutionary innovation is the first cars in the late 19th century. These cars where possible because of the evolutionary innovation that was fuel injections. Due to their high cost, making them unavailable to the everyday man, they are not considered an example of disruptive innovation. What is considered disruptive is the Ford Model T, which was based on the first cars, but affordable enough to replace horse-drawn carriages.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation is similiar to a fire.

This is one of the most well-known types of innovation. Who doesn’t want to create a product or process that disrupts current markets and creates something completely new and amazing?

While this is certainly the most popular type of innovation to talk about and describe as a business goal, not everyone seems to fully understand what disruptive innovation truly is.

Combining best of both worlds, disruptive innovation has the unexpectedness of revolutionary innovation, while also creating a new market. It does this by generating new values that then overtake an already existing market. Unsurprisingly, this comes with elevated risks, such as longer incubation periods. Additionally, disruptive innovation usually happens due to an outside influence. All of this means that disruptive innovation is the rarest type of innovation, but also one of the most discussed.

Example of disruptive innovation

A great example of a disruptive innovation is the company Hampton Creek, maker of “just. Mayo” and “just. Cookies”. These products are vegan, using a plant protein developed by the Hampton Creek team.

Vegan mayonnaise in itself is not revolutionary nor disruptive, but Hampton Creek’s approach to food is. Their CEO describes them as a “tech company that happens to be working with food”. This quote, along with their promised food-tech revolution and lawsuits from Hellmann’s are also reasons behind their disruptive label. Hampton Creek has not only proved that mayonnaise doesn’t have to contain eggs, but has also created a new market for vegan products, that don’t tout their vegan credentials.

Why are innovation types important?

The obvious answer to this question would be: “because different types of innovation do different things.” And while correct, it only tells about half of the story. Being able to distinguish between different types of innovation makes it easier for you and your team to figure out what you want to achieve and how. It also gives you a better understanding of where your products and processes fit into their respective markets.

As a final point, this post should not be seen as an ultimate guide to innovation. As business and markets keep evolving, so will our understanding of innovation.

Interested in innovation? Then check out our post “3 Examples of Innovation Improving the World“. or perhaps you’ll be more interested in “What We All Can Learn From The German Approach to Innovation“.