Small Business Solutions: What Does it Mean to Be Innovative?

Innovation. It’s a word those of us in the business world—especially in the tech sector—hear and use often.

For many businesses, “innovate or die” is the mantra that directs their focus. For others, simply following in their more innovative competitors’ footsteps is enough to ensure what for them is an acceptable level of bottom-line sustainability. We see this happen in every industry when patents expire and the market becomes flooded with knockoff equivalents. But even companies that follow such a business model can be described as innovative if they add features to their knockoff product or offer customers a new benefit.

For example, the Hyundai Corporation introduced its first automobile, the Excel, to the U.S. market in 1986. And while the Excel offered nothing innovative in terms of its features and capabilities, Hyundai’s market share grew because of its approach to marketing the vehicle, which included aggressive pricing and superior warranty coverage.

So while Hyundai’s product wasn’t innovative, the company itself was because other automakers were forced to compete with Hyundai’s new marketing tactics.

After all, by definition, a company simply needs to provide or introduce something new or different to be called innovative. And that ‘something’ can be a new or different product or a new or different approach to marketing that product.

Why is it, then, that some companies consistently rank among “The Most Innovative” while other equally innovative companies rarely if ever achieve such recognition?

I think it’s because most of us equate innovation with new technologies, particularly high-tech gadgets. Products or services that lack the “coolness” factor—regardless of whether the companies that provided them found new ways of delivering improved offerings—typically aren’t described as innovative.

Is Progressive Insurance really less innovative than Apple? Most people would say yes, and I’d argue that’s because, right or wrong, “innovative” has become synonymous with “cool.”

But when you consider the companies I just mentioned, there’s no denying that each of them introduced a product or service that was disruptively innovative. It’s just that Progressive Insurance sells something that’s rarely if ever described as cool, whereas almost every time Apple introduces a new product it raises the standard by which other high-tech gadgets’ “coolness” is measured.

To me, the industry in which a company competes is irrelevant; if it’s innovative they’re likely to grab market share, even if their product or service isn’t cool enough to grab the headlines.


Speaking of innovation, Xerox is a company with a history of amazing innovations, including pioneering the original “Xerographic” process that led to the original photocopier, the industry’s first laser printer, Solid Ink, and many others.

What’s more, yesterday (2/13) we announced the arrival of our Xerox ConnectKey™ technology. Multifunction printers built on ConnectKey provide a critical advantage to small businesses and enterprise customers alike, especially in the areas of mobility and data security. See for yourself by visiting our ConnectKey page.

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  1. Marisa February 14, 2013 - Reply

    I agree that being innovative in the larger sense is viewed as evolving on a huge scale and introducing the newest and hippest gadget. But I also know that innovation begins in some of the smallest departments of some of the smallest companies world wide. What’s important is for employers to recognize that the innovators can both be big idea dreamers and small meticulous operations type folk. It takes all kinds to bring truly innovative ideas to market no matter which market. Quality is quality and fulfilling a need is critical to success. Throwing it out there to see if it’ll stick is a game played only by those with enough money not to care about failure.

    Xerox is still alive because they have vision and have adapted to a constantly changing marketplace for decades. Hiring innovative thinkers is what guarantees success for the long haul and not just at the C-level.

  2. Nathan Van Ness February 15, 2013 - Reply

    Marissa, thanks for commenting. I absolutely agree that the products and services that we describe as some of the “most innovative” are those that come from smaller, more nimble companies. Especially those that are able to convince the venture capital firms that what they’re developing will prove to be not only innovative, but disruptively so.

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