Innovation can be Incremental or Radical


Have you ever made improvements to existing technologies, processes, products or services? That’s incremental innovation and is the most common form of innovation today. However incremental innovation often only produces incremental growth.

Radical innovation entails high uncertainty with high risks, and the potential, though not guaranteed, for high returns.

To illustrate the difference between incremental and radical innovation think about the camera industry. Kodak led the industry for years developing new and improved products based on traditional film. However these were all incremental innovations based on the same technology. The radical innovation in this industry was the development of digital imaging. This revolutionised the industry and the way people captured, stored and used images.

Incremental and radical innovation is compared in Table 1. Do you use these approaches in your business?

Table 1. Characteristics of Incremental and Radical Innovation

Incremental Innovation Radical Innovation
Exploits existing technology Explores new technology
Low uncertainty High uncertainty
Focuses on cost or feature improvements in existing products or services, processes, marketing or business model Focuses on processes, products or services with unprecedented performance features
Improves competitiveness within current markets or industries Creates a dramatic change that transforms existing markets or industries, or creates new ones

Links to subsections of this topic

What is Innovation?
Innovation is Not Just About Products
Innovation can be Incremental or Radical
Innovation can be Closed or Open
Is your company innovative?
Ten ways to boost innovation