How to Achieve Breakthrough Innovation in Your Company

BY HEATHER BAKIRE | 3 min read

Every single company is looking for a chance to leverage breakthrough innovation to transform the market. We get inspired by companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Tesla, all of which have utilized cutting-edge technology or business models to achieve breakthrough innovation.

While it may seem like these companies instantly changed their respective industries, it’s important to remember that each of them had a long journey to breakthrough innovation. Apple had a moment in the 1990s when experts thought it was surely doomed before Steve Jobs revamped the company. Amazon started by selling books online long before it became the retail giant it is today. Tesla relies on electric motors and lithium-ion batteries that were created decades ago.

From its name, it sounds like breakthrough innovation happens by chance, a sudden breakthrough that changes everything. But breakthrough innovation hardly ever happens overnight. Instead, it’s the result of careful planning and commitment to the long haul.

In order to give your company the best chance at achieving breakthrough innovation in your industry, you need to strategize on how to build an innovation framework that takes into account your company’s goals and resources.

Photo by Leon from Unsplash


The four types of innovation

Before diving into the building blocks of breakthrough innovation, it’s important to be aware of the four types of innovation. Each type has a specific role in the product innovation process. When creating your innovation framework, consider how each of these types of innovation could work to your benefit.


1. Sustaining innovation

Sustaining innovation attempts to improve existing products by using strategic roadmapping and traditional R&D efforts. Rather than finding new products and approaches, sustaining innovation focuses on making current products better. This typically involves looking for new skill sets to bring into the organization. You can also use a design thinking approach as part of sustaining innovation.


2. Basic research

Excellent research often results in new ideas. While it’s usually only large companies that have the resources to create their own labs, smaller companies can participate in research programs as well. If your company is in an industry where research is a key part of innovation, consider becoming an affiliate of a research group. 


3. Breakthrough innovation

Breakthrough innovation is what fundamentally changes the market. It typically relies on open innovation or crowdsourcing to come up with a creative solution to a complex problem. The reason why breakthrough innovation is so transformative is that it invites people with diverse skill sets to solve the problem. One example of this is UpGyres’s Plastika Reparabilis challenge (currently on the HeroX platform) that is looking to find a global solution for plastic recycling.


4. Disruptive innovation

Disruptive innovation happens when you innovate your business model itself. It’s similar to breakthrough innovation in that it upends what was previously considered the norm in the industry. Netflix is the perfect example of disruptive innovation, having altered its business model from renting DVDs to introducing the concept of a streaming service. If Netflix hadn’t adapted, it would have had the same fate as Blockbuster.

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels


Building an innovation framework for breakthrough innovation

If you decide to make breakthrough innovation one of your company goals, you need to implement an innovation framework that streamlines the process. This is the best way to make sure everyone on your team knows where you’re headed. Follow these steps to achieve breakthrough innovation.


1. Identify a problem

What is the complex problem you’re trying to solve? It has to be a big enough problem that it can spark breakthrough innovation. Think about a technology that is needed or an unaddressed market need. Airbnb’s breakthrough innovation started with looking for a way to give people a more affordable and culturally-immersive travel experience. Finding the perfect problem has the potential to result in a groundbreaking solution.


2. Propose solutions to the problem

Once you’ve pinpointed the problem, start looking for solutions. You can do this within your company...or you can sponsor an open innovation challenge that will provide you with dozens of brilliant ideas. Remember, the more ideas you have, the more likely you are to find a breakthrough.


3. Choose the best solution

If you sponsor a challenge with HeroX, you’re sure to have a wide variety of entries to choose from. How will you know which one is the winner? Think about which idea is crazy enough to make an impact. As Elon Musk said, “Starting a car company is idiotic, and an electric car company is idiocy squared.” In his case, idiocy paid off.


4. Scale the solution to reach breakthrough innovation

Once you have the groundbreaking solution, it’s time to make it the focus of your company. You’ll probably need to have supporting innovations to make the breakthrough. For example, the light bulb needed an electric grid for it to become a breakthrough innovation. After determining what other innovations are needed to scale your solution, use your innovation framework to uncover these additional innovations. 

You don’t have to do all of this alone. If you need help finding the right problem or the right solutions, consult with our HeroX experts. We’ll help you create the perfect challenge to spur your company towards breakthrough innovation. Before long, your breakthrough innovation will be ready to change the world.


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