Incremental innovation: a step at a time

The late Massachusetts Institute of Tech mathematician, Edward Lorenz, described how a small action could lead to an improbably large event.

In short, the butterfly effect; part of the chaos theory.

The ramifications of COVID-19 has seen budgets dramatically cut, a greater focus on efficiency and a severe reduction in research and development spend by the vast majority of organisations – that’s enough chaos for all of us.

It has also been a time when the little things in life meant so much more – not only the humble hug but finding that extra 10 pounds in the piggy bank that you’d left as a gift for yourself to spend on a rainy day.

But how can we learn from these simple pleasures and implement them into management? In this short piece, we look at how small incremental innovation can lead to the highest bang for your buck.

We live in a world where almost everything is instantaneous, or at least it seems like it. But in the reality of entrepreneurship, the vast majority of successful organisations do not reach the stars overnight, but through an iterative cycle of innovation that develops strong foundations and a bright future.

The approach of incremental innovation works by spending small amounts for marginal improvements in the most valuable aspect of the organisation. Correct investment today designed to solve tomorrow’s problems.

For a fascinating example of incremental change, look no further than Pret A Manger’s plastic pledge, where lots of small scale initiatives – from recycling bins in shops to free water stations – are culminating into a significant reduction in the food chain’s environmental impact.

It can be seen in a sports context too, changes in the menu at Forest Green Rovers helped them establish the world’s first fully vegan football stadium.

Although it clearly has its benefits, incremental innovation does not only have to change the planet. Sports teams across the world are investing little and often into their academies, which have become, for some clubs in particular, their most prized asset.

Grassroots sport is another example – if governing bodies spent all their money on elite sport and did not value the participation levels, how will the next generation of athletes be discovered and supported?

The key message here is sustainability. 2020 taught everybody that the world can flip upside down in what felt like the blink of an eye, so planning and preparing for whatever could be ahead is non-negotiable.

Your future self will thank you.