Innovation can be both. Steve Jobs described innovation as the thing that distinguishes between a leader and a follower. This isn’t the same as doing something brand new, but simply better and more intuitively than anyone else.
It’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. Some of the best businesses take an idea that already exists and make it better. McDonald’s didn’t invent the burger, but their systems and processes have made them one of the biggest brands in the world. Sometimes, it’s about figuring out what frustrates you, and finding a better way of doing things. But there’s another adage to remember too:
Don’t fix what’s not broken. If a product does what it’s meant to, it will sell. Don’t compete with it. Rather find a burning need you know exists, than compete with an idea that has quite literally stood the test of time.
Here’s an interesting example: Did you know that more than 4 000 patents have been granted and tens of thousands rejected as not being original by the US patents office since the original spring-loaded mousetrap was patented in the late 1800s? This makes it the single most invented category in the US patents office.
But here’s the really interesting fact: Despite new technology and innovations, the original trap remains dominant, with millions sold a year. In contrast, very few of the ‘newer’ ideas have sold units – and some not at all.