New products are often described as “revolutionary” in order to ensure a certain response in the market. In most cases, however, there is nothing revolutionary about the products or procedures. In many cases, product improvements are evolutionary in that they satisfy an existing market demand more quickly or cheaply than their predecessors.
What is it that makes an innovation “revolutionary” – and is it possible to produce this unknown component on the spot? (see also our article on “Supply Chain Mangament – a way to procure innovation”)
Combine existing products
Professor Dr Christine Radtke of Hannover Medical School is researching ways to accelerate nerve regeneration with the help of the silk produced by South American silk spiders. The spider silk is antibiotic and sticky. It provides a structure for regenerating nerve cells and dissolves over time, as it is a natural substance. Taken by themselves, neither nerve regeneration nor spider silk (which has been in existence for about 400 million years) are new. It is the combination of these two completely unrelated concepts that results in a revolutionary approach.
Of course, there are examples from industry, too. Wall colours with a lotus effect and the iPhone are probably the best-known of them. Both combine seemingly unrelated things – lotus leaves and wall colour on the one hand, mobile phones and a keyboard substitute (touchpads) on the other.
Discover the future in the past
Evolution has generated so many new phenomena and improvements that it is practically impossible to capture all possible combinations and test them for potential market needs. Every minor evolution creates waves, like a stone thrown into a lake. The further these waves are from the place where the stone hit the water, the less visible they become.
Since evolution happens simultaneously across different areas, the main challenge is to connect the results. The farther the causes for new developments are apart – in time or space –, the larger the innovative force, and the higher the probability of a truly revolutionary idea.
From my own experience, I can say that many important impulses have their roots in the past. The iPhone, which I mentioned above, is a good example, as many technical innovations which made it possible were made in the past. Sometimes, a look backward is just what is needed to find the right way into the future.