Innovation is vague: so many people, so many opinions. In essence everybody agrees that it always refers to something new. A new product, – service, – process, – business model, – way to engage customers, whatever.

The main criterion is the newness of the offering.

The unclarity starts with ‘what do you consider new?’…. Take for example the first 10 Apple iPhones from 2007 – 2015. Which of them do you consider new?

  1. The first iPhone June 2007;
  2. iPhone 3G: with 3G and gps;
  3. iPhone 3Gs: with video;
  4. iPhone4: with a design upgrade and a lot more pixels;
  5. iPhone 4S: with a camera upgrade and Siri, a digital assistant;
  6. iPhone5: with a bigger screen and aluminium frame;
  7. iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c: with cosmetic changes and touch-identification;
  8. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus: with a design upgrade and a bigger version;
  9. iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus: with some slight modifications;
  10. iPhone 6SE: smaller and cheaper.

I only consider the first iPhone new. That was a great big new idea. All other iPhones are improvements of the first device. Now don’t get me wrong. Some of the next versions of the iPhones, which I use myself, add great value.

But that’s not the point. The main criterion is the newness of the offering. Apple improved their iPhone, they did not innovated it. The iPad, that was their next real innovation.

As business economist I love improvement. Striving for operational excellence and fostering improvements generates your profits today. Being profitable today creates the conditions for being innovative in the future. Striving for innovation excellence though will generate your profits the day after tomorrow.

Striving for innovation excellence will generate your profits the day after tomorrow.

You improve in small steps and you innovate in big jumps. And I like to add more differences between improvement and innovation:


·     small steps,

·     continuous,

·     clear goals ,

·     relatively sure outcome,

·     tight structured process,

·     lower chance of failure,

·     smaller investment in both time and money,

·     for tomorrow.


·     big jumps,

·     once in a while,

·     diffuse focus,

·     relatively unsure outcome,

·     iterative process,

·     high chance of failure,

·     bigger investment in both time and money,

·     for the day after tomorrow.

Due to all these differences improvement is not innovation. Continuous improvement, LEAN, 6Sigma are in practice way more popular than innovation. It’s quite clear why: ‘why jump, if we still can gain a lot from just setting the next step?’. So please improve, but don’t forget to innovate in time.

Wishing you lots of success on your personal innovation journeys.

Note : This article was originally published on LinkedIn

Gijs van Wulfen

Gijs van Wulfen is a recognised authority and keynote speaker on innovation and Design Thinking. He was chosen as one of the first LinkedIn Influencers and as of 2017, 300.000 people across the globe are following his notably engaging, prolific and insightful posts. In 2016 Gijs came number 2 in the international Top 40 Innovation Bloggers. In 2017 his book ‘The Innovation Maze’ was elected ‘Management Book of the Year’. 


Shenzhen Blog Editor