Technology has induced an ever-present fear of disruption among major players in every industry, accelerating the push for innovation. Significant investments of time and energy are spent in search of the next best invention, but sometimes a new invention is the wrong goal to chase in the effort to innovate.

Invention is about creating new solutions or technologies to solve defined problems, and often requires teams of experts and years of collaborative research before resulting in something truly new. Often, this new thing is signaled with an official patent. While invention is an important part of innovation, it's a small and over-glorified portion of it, especially in comparison to reinvention.

The majority of the innovations we admire today are actually reinventions. Reinvention is about using familiar methods to find new solutions to problems--not to be confused with "repurposing," "repackaging," or "refining." Warby Parker reinvented prescription eyeglasses. Quip reinvented oral care. And e-cigs reinvented cigarettes. More than anything else, reinvention is about timing--understanding people's behaviors and identifying the appropriate problems to solve within a constantly shifting cultural context.

On the path to reinvention success are two key considerations:

  • plenty of timeless problems have yet to find contemporary solutions, and
  • a shifting cultural context constantly creates new behaviors.

Timeless problems meet contemporary solutions.

Many of 2017's innovative brands saw success by reinventing stale categories. Companies built around modernizing products such as umbrellas or luggage gained attention for injecting new life in seemingly unglamorous categories. For the most part, reinventions of this nature appear obviously long overdue. Every category should have a new entrant that is better designed, more efficient, and technologically superior.

A shifting cultural context creates new behaviors.  

Cigarettes have long been a symbol of cool, but the undeniable long-term health effects have led to a widespread sense of being outdated. While smoking and other unhealthy habits have gone out of style, rebelliousness never has. E-cigarettes, which use mostly water vapor with low concentrations of nicotine, brought back the habit by making smoking safer. By delivering the same thing, in a more contemporary and healthful way, cigarettes were, in a way, reinvented. The need is fulfilled in a timely way.

It's all about timing.

While these three modes of identifying opportunities for reinvention all provide examples for how to achieve product innovation, a common thread ties them together--the importance of timing. An optimal window where forces align for the ideal introduction of a behavior, product or idea, something I call Optimus Time, is essential in achieving reinvention success. Whether it's about evolving behavior, technology, or some combination of the two, each instance of reinvention requires keeping an ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse of what's happening now for insights into what will happen next.

Published on: Jan 12, 2018