incremental innovation

Contributor(s): Aislyn Fredsall

Incremental innovation is a series of small improvements or upgrades made to a company's existing products, services, processes or methods.

The changes implemented through incremental innovation are usually focused on improving an existing product's development efficiency, productivity and competitive differentiation. Many enterprises use incremental innovation to help maintain or improve a product's market position. Incremental innovation has become a common tactic in the consumer technology industry, as companies strive to regularly improve personal devices with customer-friendly features.

The opposite of incremental innovation is radical or disruptive innovation. Radical innovation is when a new product, service, process or strategy is introduced to a market, but is designed to make a significant impact by completely replacing existing technologies and methods. Radical innovation requires a significant investment of time and resources, making incremental innovation less associated with risk.

Although incremental innovation is more common, enterprises often utilize both incremental and radical innovation strategies. For example, a radical innovation can be introduced to the market, and if it is successful the enterprise uses incremental innovation to improve the product and keep it competitive over time.

Innovation has become a major factor in determining modern enterprises' longevity and success. The trend has led many enterprises to put more focus on both incremental and radical innovation strategy, and how they can benefit the company's product development.

This was last updated in July 2015

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What do you think are the pros and cons of incremental innovation strategies?
Gerald Weinberg writes about change in these words.
"From working with systems, I have learned that the process of change is always organic: It's never possible to change just one thing at a time."

The outcome of the actions may appear as an incremental change, but the change itself must be supported on multiple directions to work out successfully.