The Benefits of Incremental Innovation

Two researchers consider a number of Apple’s innovations over the years — and conclude, among other things, that incremental technological innovations can sometimes have more influence than more radical ones.

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Apple is often noted for its innovation; its iPhone and iPod are well-known examples of successful innovation by an established company.  But a paper by Thierry Rayna (London Metropolitan Business School) and Ludmila Striukova (University College London) makes an interesting argument: that one thing Apple’s innovation history illustrates is the challenges of being a first-mover in a technology market.

In a paper titled “The Curse of the First-mover,” Rayna and Striukova take a look at two Apple innovations that were not great commercial successes — the Lisa computer in the early 1980s and the Newton PDA in the early 1990s  — as well as two that have been — the iMac and the iPod. The authors argue that the Lisa and the Newton were both actually more radical technological innovations than the iMac, the iPod or the iPhone — which, according to Rayna and Striukova, can be categorized as incremental innovations within existing categories of products.


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Comments (2)
A short but concise article with some definite learning's ... thank you.

However, and respectfully, one merely needs to use a company such as Boeing as a classic example of "Big Hairy Audacious Goals = BHAG's (Jim Collins / Porras) coming to life.  So, there's being more to the equation of "risk" in general terms than initially meets the eye.  It's situation specific.

To explain:  Some industries require "BHAG's" for participants to stay ahead / stay alive.  Further, the degree of risk adoption differs from company to company ... some companies NEED to live "on the edge" to live their essence, passion and, of course, their vision (the latter whether formalised or not).

My point?  One needs to be far more holistic and comprehensive when assessing company behaviour in these challenging times.  There are on "off-the-shelf" solutions or, observations -- the real world doesn't allow for that over-simplification.  Nor does the human factor ...

Kind rgds,
Dear Martha,

Thanks very much for your review. I thought you might also be interested in another paper we wrote as a follow-up of this one. It is entitled "Crossing the Chasm or Being Crossed Out: The Case of Digital Audio Players" and investigates why Apple achieved a successful adoption of iPod, while the historical leader (Sony) and the first mover (Archos) repeatedly failed to do so. (It can be downloaded at the following address:

Kind regards,

Thierry Rayna