My Personal Crusade against Simple Innovation

Alfonso de la Rocha
3 min readAug 23, 2017

Originally published at:

These days everyone wants to be on the spearhead of innovation. Big companies need innovation to keep their base clients and attract new ones in an attempt to keep making the outstanding amount of money they are used to. Entrepreneurs need innovation to find their next “great idea” that will enable them to build a company and, who knows? Maybe become the next big unicorn of Silicon Valley. And, last but not least, the common people need innovation to make their lives easier. We are living a golden era of innovation and technological development so, everyone should be able to easily get their share from this innovation cake, right? Let me advance you that I do not agree with this that much…

I have been noticing lately how big companies and some startups engage in a type of innovation that I like to call simple innovation. This type of innovation is the one that do not involve any kind of risk as it is just the same core idea that has been used for ages with some fancy tweaking or fine-tuning so it seems different. In some extreme cases, this is just the application of a brand new technology to an existing idea or product.

The concept of simple innovation may seem quite abstract so let me introduce it with an example. Imagine that we are CompanyX Inc., and our core bussiness is the development of online booking apps for travelling companies. We notice then that our rate of new clients is going down and other companies applying disruptive technologies, such as AI, are getting our potential clients and even attracting some of our current ones.

Simple innovation do not involve any kind of risk

We then decide to build an “innovation team” to explore how we could exploit the power of AI in our product and services. After seeing that our competitors are applying NLP and Chatbot technologies to replace current online booking apps, we decide to build our products over this new technology, and offer it to our clients. What we are doing is selling our same product over a brand new platform solving with it the same needs of our original product for the same potential clients.

This is what I call simple innovation, CompanyX Inc. is not trying to innovate in the strict sense of the word, they are “simple innovating”. They are not differentiating themselves from their competitors, they are just upgrading themselves, and I wouldn’t call this innovation. I am not saying that what Company X Inc. is doing is wrong, actually it is what it should do in order not to die and lose all their clients in favor of new technologies, but the people doing this job are not “innovators” as they are applying existing technologies in existing use cases to existing products. And please, don’t even dare to call this Research & Development as it can only be called Development (This is a call to traditional companies upgrading themselves that state that they are investing in R&D while what they do is investing in Upgrade and Survival).

Do not call it Research & Development but Upgrade & Survival

For me, innovating means doing something no one else has done (it can be a new technology or just a nice use case of an existing one) that differentiates you from others and for the benefit of our clients or the common people and that differentiates you from other. In my following posts I would like to develop a bit more about this concept I just invented of “simple innovation” (that you could consider right or wrong) and how, in my opinion, with a bit more effort and investment you can easily convert “simple innovation” in “real innovation”.