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Does Innovation Equal Competitive Advantage?

“You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently.” – Steve Jobs

It’s been almost 4 years since the greatest innovator of our time, Steve Jobs, passed on. And while Apple continues his legacy within their company, Jobs continues to inspire a multitude of innovators in technology companies and beyond. Virtually every company is seeking the intersection of trends and needs.  Perhaps thanks to Steve, we’ve noticed weekly announcements regarding “innovation” as the new normal. But we wondered if and how these announced “innovations” are truly creating a competitive advantage.

Obviously, bleeding-edge innovation can garner first-mover advantage. This type of advancement can initially translate to increased brand awareness and market share, but unless there’s emerging consumer need or a patent involved, first-mover advantage won’t equal long-term competitive advantage (think smartphones or electric cars). And unless the innovation is sustainably differentiating, authentic to the brand and readily accepted by consumers, then innovation-for-innovation’s-sake can be more damaging than helpful. True competitive advantage is dependent upon consumer need, acceptance, and adoption.

We applaud this next generation of business innovators whether their advancements are in product, process, or programs. They inspire us to continually think differently about industries, consumer segments, trends, and strategies. And we acknowledge that innovation, as a competitive differentiator, will only stand the test of time if relevant consumers embrace it or until someone else does it differently.