The differences between free climbing and climbing with a rope
Imagine you are climbing a mountain. Are you climbing to test your abilities and endurance, safely scaling with carabiners and rope to reduce the risk of falling? Or does your chosen route up the mountain mean you have to climb without a rope? What does your vision of the summit look and feel like?
As someone who is likely climbing your own version of a mountain, which route are you taking? The one you identified with says something about your approach to innovation. Are you the evolutionary who climbs the mountain while finding new footholds? Or are you the revolutionary who forges an entirely new path, depending on your instinct and resolve to make it to the summit?
Don’t fret about which climber you are. When it comes to evolutionary innovation versus revolutionary evolution, there’s no right or wrong, clever or ingenious—each approach has its advantages, risks and drawbacks, and each can be as daring as the other; it’s really just a matter of your natural business instincts and how far out of your comfort zone you’re prepared to step.
Let’s have a look at these two ideas and examine their functional differences.
Evolutionary innovation is all about adaptation. It’s fairly low risk and nowhere near as expensive as its counterpart. An evolutionary innovator takes a product that’s already on the market and devises ways to improve it. This in itself is a challenge, especially with established products or services because the fact that they’ve been around for a long time and people use and respond to them consistently suggests they don’t need changing. What drives the evolutionary entrepreneur is scrutinising the minutiae of a given product and either adding or subtracting from it to make it more useable and efficient.
Evolutionary innovation is appealing to the new entrepreneur in particular because seeing something that can be tweaked, changed and morphed into a new opportunity might give them the confidence to get started in a market they understand. And because of the relatively lower risk, investors might be more likely to show interest, though of course this depends on the nature of the investment. It’s also worth noting it’s precisely because the risk isn’t high and the changes smaller, reduced returns are often the consequence.
The disruptive heights of revolutionary innovation are where a lot of entrepreneurs aspire to, but you need some mettle to handle the altitude. Expensive, high-risk and unpredictable, this approach requires real self-belief, intense dedication and the ability to shut out the sceptics.
Because they’re a disruptor, the revolutionary innovator depends on the support of forward-thinking investors and a very special team around them. Improving markedly on an existing product even if those improvements appear revolutionary it is not good enough. What your investors (and you, as a disruptor) expect is something no one has ever thought of before, something that 99.9 percent of the population could never have envisaged. If you choose to be a revolutionary (or does revolution choose you?) the pressure is well and truly on.
Successful revolutionary innovation is associated with fame and vast fortune. Think Bezos, Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg and Musk—visionaries and geniuses and therefore very rare, very resilient and very determined individuals. But you could very well be one. With a great, original idea, unyielding conviction, enormous sacrifice and support, revolution awaits.
Then there’s the climber who plans their ascent…
There is an innovation strategy that allows a business owner to explore different strategies that bring in both evolutionary and revolutionary approaches. Choices are largely determined by their appetite for risk. Developed from the belief that one’s business is either growing or declining—that there’s no standing still—the Ansoff Growth Matrix, is a planning tool to devise strategies for future growth.
The matrix is separated into four growth strategies:
- Market penetration – Growth derived from selling more of what you already sell.
- Product development – Growth from the introduction of new products to your existing marketplace.
- Marketing development – Growth achieved through selling existing products to new markets.
- Diversification – Growth from selling new products to new markets, either related or unrelated to your current product or market.
The Ansoff Growth Matrix is a coherent and efficient model for exploring ways to increase revenue by developing new products and moving into new markets. Sales can be increased by examining alternative combinations for new markets. Whether you execute all or just one of the above growth alternatives depends on which stage your business is in. For example, new businesses are most likely to start with market penetration and progress to product development. The latter two are more suited to established enterprises because of the risk associated with moving from existing markets into new ones.