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Treff LaPlante

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What's Your Innovation

Innovation in today's society

There’s a reasonably famous book in technology circles called “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” It basically says there are two types of innovations: those that appeal to existing markets by improving products, and those that appeal to new markets by offering new capabilities.

I don’t think it’s particularly hard to be innovative. All one has to do is walk down the street and identify any single thing that is causing some form of discomfort or irritation or challenge. Then just think of a way to do it better. It really is that easy. And it’s a fun exercise.

Keep in mind we don’t always realize we are discomforted by something until we are shown a better way of doing it. For example, before mobile phones, people didn’t realize that using a pay phone was inconvenient. There were many times when I needed a pay phone and was very happy to have found one. But today, few would even consider using a pay phone; in fact, most of them have disappeared.

Here’s an example of how the innovation exercise works: I’m looking out my window right now. I see a fire hydrant. Isn’t it irritating that you can’t park in front of a fire hydrant? How much valuable parking space is wasted because a fire hydrant happens to be sitting there? What is the dollar value of a parking space over a three-year period?

Perhaps if we could build an extension for fire hydrants such that they delivered water above the level of cars, we could recover that space.

And voila, a new business is born. Or at least that is the general idea. You can try that exercise all day, and you will soon come across something that has merit.

This is where it actually does get difficult, though.

Bringing your innovation to market usually requires knowledge, experience and connections in multiple industries. On that subject you can find thousands of books, many failed examples and only a few successes.

As a CEO, I’ve come to see the need for two key characteristics if you want to be successful. If you don’t have one or both of these, then just know that you still have some work ahead of you.

First, you need a market. A market is not a general concept, and it’s definitely not a “need.” It is a specific set of people who are willing and able to buy. If you can’t provide a lot of examples of actual people who would purchase your product, then you don’t have a market.

Second, you need a product. In my 20-plus years of software rapid application development experience, I’ve sold some vapor ware. It’s not fun. And while it seems necessary at the time, you can’t build a business that way. You may survive another day, but you need to have a plan to finish your product. Generally speaking, people don’t want to give up their hard-earned money on an unfinished product.

The bottom line is this: If you are appealing to an existing market with some type of understandable improvement on an existing product, you are going to have an easier time launching your business. But your upside may not be as strong.

However, if you are creating a new type of product to sell to a heretofore undefined market, you may have a really tough road ahead of you. But if you pull it off, you can have a tremendous upside.

I believe the innovator’s dilemma is simply that it is nearly impossible to be successful with true innovation because, by its very nature, innovation is a foreign concept to most people.

Still, there’s one way to find out …

How will you innovate? Ours is in rapid application development.

This post was originally posted on the Central Penn Business Journal Gadget Cube.

More Stories By Treff LaPlante

Treff LaPlante has been involved with technology for nearly 20 years. At WorkXpress, he passionately drives the vision of making customized enterprise software easy, fast, and affordable.

Prior to joining WorkXpress, Treff was director of operations for eBay's HomesDirect. While there, he created strategic relationships with Fortune 500 companies and national broker networks and began his foray into the development of flexible workflow software technologies. He served on the management team that sold HomesDirect to eBay.

During his time at Vivendi-Universal Interactive, Treff was director of strategy. In addition to M&A activities, Treff broadly applied quantitative management principles to sales, marketing, and product line functions. Treff served as the point person for the management team that sold Cendant Software to Vivendi-Universal. Earlier positions included product management and national sales trainer for Energy Design Systems, an engineering software company. Treff began his professional career as a metals trader for Randall Trading Corp, a commodities firm that specialized in bartering and transporting various metals and coal from the then-dissolving Soviet Union.

Treff received his MBA from Pepperdine University and a BS in chemical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University.