Sign Up Early for SB'24 San Diego and Save! Spring Rate Ends June 23rd.

Products and Design
Why Most Innovation Turns Out To Be Rubbish

In a 2006 white paper by AcuPOLL North America, Mark Sneider analysed 20,000 new product launches and found — in his own words — that “barely ten percent” succeed. It’s not difficult to think of products that failed to capture the collective imagination: Guinness Red, Heinz purple and green EZ Squirt ketchup, Pepsi Blue, Supersize at McDonald’s ... The history of innovation is littered with failure. None of this is news. But it is shocking if you think about it long enough. If the AcuPOLL figure is even remotely close to being representative of the truth, innovation teams around the globe waste 90% of their time and available resources. There aren’t many professions where such a high rate of failure is considered acceptable.

In a 2006 white paper by AcuPOLL North America, Mark Sneider analysed 20,000 new product launches and found — in his own words — that “barely ten percent” succeed. It’s not difficult to think of products that failed to capture the collective imagination: Guinness Red, Heinz purple and green EZ Squirt ketchup, Pepsi Blue, Supersize at McDonald’s ... The history of innovation is littered with failure. None of this is news. But it is shocking if you think about it long enough. If the AcuPOLL figure is even remotely close to being representative of the truth, innovation teams around the globe waste 90% of their time and available resources. There aren’t many professions where such a high rate of failure is considered acceptable.

I know a little bit about failure. Before I entered the lucrative world of brand consultancy, my first job involved mowing large expanses of grass using a ride-on mower. I was absolutely awful at it. In theory, the job was pretty simple: drive back and forth in straight lines. But I couldn’t do it. No matter how closely I watched the blades. No matter how firmly I held the wheel. The lawns I mowed looked like the work of drunken aliens practising corn circles. It’s fair to say that they were “barely ten percent” straight. And then I was given the following advice: fix a point on the horizon and drive towards it. This made all the difference. From then on, every lawn was beautifully punctuated by a series of purposefully straight lines.

What does this have to do with innovation? Everything. Innovation should fulfil a purpose. This should be about more than responding to passing whims or fads: being organic one moment, probiotic the next and subsequently fat-free, GM-free, carb-free, high in Omega-3 and low-GI. Innovation should tell a story about the future: the role a brand intends to play in our lives, not today or tomorrow, but in ten, fifteen or even twenty years’ time. Each new product or service should represent a meaningful step towards this future. What does Supersize tell us about how McDonald’s sees the future? What does purple and green ketchup tell us about Heinz’s ambition for the future of food?

Even incremental innovation benefits from a clear sense of direction. Without an idea of where a brand’s true north lies, new products and services are more likely to distract, confuse and deter than succeed. Inventing with a long-term vision in mind makes it more likely that each successive innovation will build on the last, resulting in new products and services that are cheaper to communicate and easier for target audiences to understand.

“Point to the horizon and drive towards it.”

Advertisement

More Stories