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All you need is Words

By john on June 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

All you need is Words

Before we start our discussion of innovation words, consider the following.

  • Product innovation occurs in a specific time and place.  Product innovation does not occur in a vacuum.

  • There specific  historical, cultural, and technological factors present when a product innovation occurs. These factors are “prerequisites” for the particular innovation.

    • An electrically powered innovation requires readily available electricity.  The modern washing machine requires electricity to operate and could not happen in 1790.

    • A jet fighter requires the ready availability of the proper fuel.  Prior to the discovery of oil and the capability to refine oil to produce jet fuel there were no jet fighters.

    • Other examples of the need for prerequisites are numerous.

  • Innovations are relative to their context.  Innovations expand or redefine the context in which they occur.  They create a new perspective or insight on their context.

  • True Innovations have a staying power (for lack of a better term).  These innovations not only redefine their context but impact future contexts in unexpected ways. True innovation underlies future contexts.

    • The Gutenberg movable press printing press not only impacted it’s context but opened a whole range of future contexts.  This Gutenberg press and it’s implications underlie all the subsequent innovations in printing presses.  The Gutenberg press not only impacted technology but drove a profound shift in culture by making books readily available.  In this instance the cultural impact may be more significant than the technological impact.

    • The transistor is an obvious example of the staying power of true innovation as it gives rise to the technology behind the digital revolution and the still expanding impact of the digital revolution on our world.

  • All products are innovative at the start.  With the passage of time changes to a mature product are not always innovative.

Innovation Words


There are specific words or ideas used in this discussion to describe innovation. Form, Fit and Function are used. Staying power is a useful idea for describing innovation.

Do not forget, these posts relate to tangible physical objects.


Simply put form is the shape of an object.  Length, width, depth, weight and others are tangible  properties of the object. Depending on the nature of the object, many more characteristics are used to specify the form.



Fit describes how well the object interacts with the surrounding environment.  Think of a lock and key which must fit together to work. If the object consists of many parts, the parts must fit together.  A handheld object must fit into the hand.  Design or aesthetics (fit) is an important in marketing.  Kitchen appliances from one supplier must share common design elements (handles, shade of paint, appearance of the stainless steel).  For branded products the appearance of products must match across the entire product line.  Fit (appearance) plays a large role in selling products so companies effort to create a “good” appearance.


Function describes how the device addresses the needs of the end user.  Function is how the device actually operates.  Function is the active part of the object.  Depending on the circumstances, function can describe how the object operates or what the object does. Products whose function(s) do not meet end user needs are doomed to fail even when the for and fit are acceptable. At some point, the object must be useful or helpful (meet a need) for the end user. Identifying end user needs and providing objects whose functions address those needs is the main object of innovation.

Getting customers to express needs so that can be turned into functional properties can be a challenging experience. Any practitioner of innovation knows how the work needed to turn the subjective comments of end users into actions that can create an innovative product.



This is the enhancement or expansion of existing aspects of the product without actually creating an innovative product.  Here lies the biggest challenge of describing innovation.  Does the change shift the current context and open up future contexts or merely enhance the current product.  This category of change and its interpretation is subject to debate.


In the next installment we will look at the washing machine as an example for understanding innovation. Subsequently we will look at the smart phone as an other example for understanding innovation.


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