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Poll results:

Creating complementary products: 6.3%

Defining an entirely new product: 37.5%

Repurposing a technology for disruptive entry: 31.3%

Finding a new audience for an existing product: 43.8%

Evolving current products to expand existing markets: 31.3%

Our most recent innovation poll suggests that there are big differences in how we approach the task of finding white spaces opportunities.  Four of the five selections attracted strong voting, but no one area garnered votes from a majority of the survey respondents.

One interesting observation is that less than 40% of respondents look for opportunities to create entirely new products.  This suggests there is a bias toward minimizing the risks of innovation by sticking to one’s knitting.  Companies leverage existing competency in a product or technology by finding new channels of opportunity or maintain market value through incremental innovation.

While some may criticize management for this tendency, it is important to consider that one reason for this bias is the effectiveness of the approach.  Many organizations have found that the waters of blue ocean opportunity can be very choppy, and after making massive investments in such opportunities they have found themselves wondering, "Who peed in my blue ocean?"

Another point of interest is the low response rate for complementary product creation.  This suggests a strong impression that innovation must be either very closely aligned with a current product or technology, or it must be off in totally uncharted territory.  Complementary product are often thought of as being betwixt and between and hence the poor cousin of more interesting innovation avenues.  However, this thinking may be a strategic mistake.  A complementary product that ties back to an unanswered aspect of the core opportunity space of an existing market represents a dual opportunity.  It can be a strong new product with a ready audience for a proven use model.  The complementary product can also be the thing that creates a bridge to new audiences because of an intersection in the objectives of opportunity spaces.

So, what should innovation practitioners extract from this survey?

With strategies for leveraging current product and technology being so heavily relied upon, it is essential that innovation workers have well defined best practices to drive these initiates quickly and effectively.

Companies that are looking for the next big thing should be developing the specific sustainable innovation approaches that mitigate the risks of innovation and thereby improve the return on innovation investment.  Best in class companies consistently enjoy higher innovation success rates than other companies.

Reconsider how to look at the red ocean opportunity spaces to expand your market footprint through complementary offerings.  This could be a great less travelled path to revenue growth.