A significant barrier to being consistently and effectively innovative is the wall that says you are not succeeding unless you (or your team, or your company) is creating “The Next Big Thing.” But our lives, business and personal, are full of hundreds of small things. The people and companies that make those small things easier to use, more convenient, or less costly are doing yeoman’s work in both incremental innovation and creativity, even if they never create the big thing.

Here are three such small examples of incremental innovation that I’ve come across—two come from recent travels and the third is due to our hot, wet Kansas City spring.

1. Travel soap that doesn’t melt as easily.

The soap holder in nearly every hotel/motel shower I have ever used is a magnet for water. Ergo, the soap you put there is soon a molten mess. If you put bumps on the bottom of the soap bar, however, it stays out of the water, lasts longer and is more pleasant to use.

2. More counter space with no increase in room size.

Staying in that same incremental innovation space—literally. It isn’t often that a hotel/motel bathroom has anywhere close to enough counter space for one, much less two people’s health and beauty products. At this Red Lion in Denver, they did not make the bathroom bigger, but they did increase the counter space by making the toilet tank lid flat with a small lip around the edge.

3. Making yard work fun slightly more tolerable.

It’s been hot early in Kansas City this year and that has resulted in significantly more grass mowing. If you have a mower that uses a gas/oil blend, you know how hard it is to get that mix right. The number of ounces of oil you can buy seldom matches the size of your gas container. Ace Hardware is solving that problem. With its container for two-cycle oil you squeeze the bottom section until you have the desired amount in the upper section. Then you can easily pour that amount—and only that amount—into the gas can. You get the right mix and you pay less for the oil, because you can buy more at a time and you have no waste.

Yes, each of these may represent an incremental innovation, but I was thankful for them. And I remember who was responsible and it has upped the chances of me returning to that hotel chain and that hardware store.  – Barrett Sydnor

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4 Responses to “Incremental Innovation – In Praise of 3 Creative Examples”

  1. AlexanderG says:

    I use the electric mower, myself. The cord can be a real pain, though!

  2. Jeff Shuey says:

    great post with very pragmatic examples. I wrote a similar post called “Evolution is OK” where I was trying to get the point across that every innovation does not need to be revolutionary. Incremental steps are A-OK … and often they are more quickly and easily adopted because people are “used to” using whatever these innovations had sprung from.

    Things like OXO with their Good Grips products … for the most part they just made the same kitchen tools easier to use. Perhaps this will be extended to SnapOn or Craftsman tools (maybe it already has?). Or even something as simple as a Red or Green arrow for turning (not turning) at an intersection. All they had to change was the faceplate and perhaps some timers on the signals. There is incremental innovation all around us. Some of the smartest people I know are “Incremental Thinkers” and this is NOT an insult.