Is Software Innovation an Art or a Science? It’s Artful Science or Scientific Art!

When we think of Software Product Innovation, we imagine getting “Eureka!” moments 3 am in the morning, getting up and writing down inspired thoughts and coding them the next morning!

Reality is much more mundane and is more of evolution rather than sudden insprirations from the sky!

Yahoo started because Jerry Yang and Filo just wanted to create a searchable directory of information first at Stanford University and then San Francisco in general!

facebook started as a teenage testorone-fueled comparion site for Harvard students to post pictures of fellow girl students and rate who’s hot and who’s not! From there it evolved into directories of students in universities to find each other for dating more than anythingelse. For a long time, facebook signed up university by university and not the general public-oriented thing it is now!

This stands for enterprise software products also – Oracle Relational Databases were less expensive, clumsy knock-offs and replacements for Digital Equipment Corporation’s RDB/VMS relational database system.

Before Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheets, there were Lotus Ami Pro and Lotus 123!

Before Google search, there were DEC Alta Vista search engine and Yahoo!

What made all the successful ones innovations in their own right were not just technical superiority but they took useful innovations and products before them and fixed annoying problems with their usages or expanded the concept of who can use them additionally or fixed usability problems with them.

Or they took an older concept and applied it to a new platform!

Or took an older concept and applied it to a newer market!

So if you want to innovate, you don’t necessarily to invent something new. You can innovate by doing one of these:

—- Is there something useful but not so easy to use? Can I fix it by making it easier to use? (Google’s single search box in the middle is a great example – Alta Vista got lost in boolean searches and requiring ANDs and ORs when specifying search. Google said – don’t worry about all of that stuff. We will take care of it. Just type in what you want into that box!)

— Can I take something useful and apply it to a new market? eBay India was another company before it became eBay bought it and made it eBay India. Flipkart is India’s Amazon. Cleartrip is India’s Expedia! Make no mistake. They are not just copies. Flipkart uses courier delivery. Cleartrip is useful for buying train tickets less painfully than when going to the IRCTC website. They all add some value and difference!

— Can I take something in one platform and make it suitable and applicable to another platform? Mobiile versions of applications may need to be differently designed and executed than an online, browser version of something.

— Can I build a family of products around one idea with more features? Personal, Professional, Enterprise versions of software is a fairly standardized way of adding additional features but orienting them towards different markets.

— Can I build a family of products that are related to each other but different from each other in functionality? Word, Powerpoint, Visio, Excel are all examples of slightly related products but providing different kinds of functionality.

Many times, we think that innovation is coming up with something completely new,. Successful innovations have all fixed or fine-tuned something useful but had some problems that were preventing widespread adoption.

Sometimes it is as simple as figuring out what these are and fixing them. And also thinking about related things so that you are thinking about a “family of products” rather than a single “one hit wonder”.

Wikipedia provides a clear definition of Innovation:

Innovation is the development of new customer value through solutions that meet new needs, unarticulated needs, or old customer and market needs in new ways. This is accomplished through different or more effective productsprocessesservices,technologies, or ideas that are readily available to marketsgovernments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself. Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different (Lat. innovare: “to change”) rather than doing the same thing better.