In Innovation, Technology Is Not The Only Answer

There is often a myth in innovation that it must be technologically driven.  P&G and many of its peers are excellent at research and development (R&D) and constantly bring new technologically-driven products to the market (Acti-Lift Tide, Regenerist, etc.).  Depending on the technology, it has the potential to create a short-term competitive advantage.  And sometimes, it can create an entire blue ocean.  But more often than not, it is a short-term play that competitors copy/adopt into their products (tablet computers seem to fit here).

A few months ago, I read an article in The New York Times about a new transit system being funded in China (“Riding High: A Chinese Concept for Bus Transit”).  What struck me with China’s new planned transit system was really how simple it is.  There is no new technology here.  This light-rail system still has a large space for lots of paying consumers to sit.  It depends on rails to travel on a paved street.  Electricity is required to propel the vehicle.  What’s different is that it eliminated some of the biggest drawbacks of light-rail systems – they take a lot of space on the road (or even require their own corridors) and they are slow.  In instances where the light-rail system is combined with regular traffic, its speed and bulkiness becomes an issue.  Although more people are moved in a given space, it slows down the rest of the vehicles to impact traffic overall.

This new light-rail system has none of these drawbacks.  It does not take any additional space.  The only infrastructure required is elevated stations and the same electrical infrastructure as any other light-rail system.  It can travel at any speed without impeding traffic.  And none of this required any new technological advancement.

Innovation does not necessarily need new technology.  Sometimes, it just requires new thinking which can lead to changing the business model.

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