Think Small, Start Small: the Importance of Incremental Innovation


In my humble opinion this is one of the most spammed buzzword like when “big data” came out a million years ago. While the “I” word is certainly of importance, many doesn’t seem to be able to grasp the essence of it.

When we talk about innovation, a lot of people would think the disruptive innovation, big changes, seismic shifting initiatives which defines experiences and behaviors of mass.

While the other types of innovation are almost always more impactful and delectable, we are focusing on incremental ones here. Not even the ones widely covered in organizational advancements , nor the incremental innovation by Apple, but rather the really tiny ones in lives.

How does Mom Innovate

Think about your favorite home-made dish. For me it’s the steamed minced pork (if you don’t know what it is, click here to teleport to its Wiki page). It could be your favorite linguine by your mother, or granny’s cookies.

When our beloved ones first got the recipe, it was from a random source, or inherited from their folks. They didn’t have gluten free, vegan, organic, or any of the modern day garnishes and dressings back then. How does it get to be your favorite in 2020?

It was by continuous trial and error with new ingredients from the market through time, modifying the recipe to the audience (i.e. the kids and family), having a feedback loop and listen to it (i.e. the rage of having the pork too lean for the patty), and constantly improving for years meal after meal. And sometimes, when your product is ready, you might attract new audience and expand your reach (i.e. pizza got viral from a bday party?).

Incremental innovation at its best has been happening for decades in our kitchens.

You do You

So that was mom, but you don’t own the kitchen (nor use it much as a matter of fact). How do you innovate?

Believe it or not, you might have made more innovations than you think.

  • Perfecting your route to work from 10 options down to the one
  • Optimized washing machine schedule to best fit with your 4 housemates
  • Trying a different hair style every 3-4 weeks and see which gives you the best feedback (i.e. creepy stares from colleagues) in the office
  • Improving the feedback loop efficiency by telling mom “pasta tasted like sh_t” at a time without her holding a knife

Again, the idea here is to think small, like super small. Remember, innovation by default is to implement something new, insert a new idea, and to drive some changes (tiny changes are still changes, don’t judge).

The Importance of Incremental Innovation

Usually small things don’t get the attention they deserve because, well, they are small, and maybe unnoticeable to begin with. But it doesn’t mean they are unimportant.

🏆 Small Wins Fuel Big Successes

In psychologies, gaming, sports, or in anything really, small wins and incremental checkpoints are extremely crucial to every success. You never go to the top of the mountain with one single jump, it is every step along the way that adds up.

Take Apple as an example, after Mr Job passed, they never really invented something super innovative. But the incremental improvements of UX, camera, screen, app experience keep them going and perfecting a better and better gadget over time.

🧠 Innovation is NOT One-Off, it’s a MINDSET You Build Over Time

Successful innovators do not receive one gift from above in a random day 243 and call it a job well done. It is the incremental of incremental innovations that eventually ignited the big one.

If you rely on habit for everything, why do you think you can suddenly do something amazing all in a sudden? We humans are creatures of habit and our brain is trained to follow patterns, if we don’t know how to actively break them. So it’s crucial to make innovation part of your routine.

It is only when you have the right mindset to keep a lookout for different perspectives, challenging status quos, exploring alternatives and lesser considered options, that will kickstart any real changes.

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