In my view there are 2 forms of innovation.
- Invent something really new
- Combine already existing 2 products and come up with something unique
It is very rare that we come across something really new nowadays. Most of the products we come across are of the second kind. For instance, take a mobile phone. It is a combination of a radio and a phone. Or an "online blog" for instance, which is a combination of concept of a diary and the framework we know as the internet. And the list goes on.
So is it really important to know exactly which category your product belongs to? Yes and No. Yes because it will give you the satisfaction and the comfort of knowing you invented something really unique and hopefully your invention will make a difference in the world. But the importance ends there. Its a matter of time someone else will copy your idea (or product) and come up with an improved version. Recent article Beyond the chasm by Adrian talks about the dynamics of maintaining your products that gives you the edge over the others. He says,
"More importantly though, whatever industry you're investing in, you need to make sure that you have some key advantage over the other players – maybe you happen to know more about music categorization than anyone else (Pandora), maybe you have awesome peer to peer networking technology that massively reduces bandwidth costs (Skype and now Joost), maybe you have a massive farm of servers which makes hard drive space insanely cheap for you (GMail) or maybe you just have key relationships that give you a unique channel to market. There has to be something that you have or that you can acquire that other people will take time to acquire and it has to be a game changer. Then design your product to make the most of that strength. You're creating barriers to entry for your competitors and making it harder for them to take over from you."
I agree with Adrian on this. Having an unique product does not give you the advantage as the consumers are always on the look out for a cheaper and better product.
In some cases it is not even the product but better packaging or a better interface in the software market gives your product the edge. The competition between iPod and Zen mp3 players proves this point. Clearly Zen offers more features but iPod seems to be the preferred choice since it looks and feels better. (Beside the fact that it is very user-friendly)
So essentially, at the end of the day, your product needs to address following 5 points in order to be successful.
- Number of problems it solves
- Work seamlessly with the environment around it
- Continued innovation