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3 Examples of Successful Innovation Processes: What Can We Learn?

In this post, we share 3 innovation process examples from well-known global brands.

Innovation Process Examples

Building a good innovation process within a company isn’t for the faint-hearted. It requires resources, dedication and a well-defined innovation-focused corporate culture. But some organizations have succeeded in creating an efficient innovation process. This achievement helped them grow to become global brands and do something different in their respective categories.

But how did these businesses go about achieving this level of success? In this article, we’ll go through real-life innovation process examples and how those brands got there.

Here are the brands we’re going to spotlight in this article:

  1. Apple

  2. Starbucks

  3. Google

Apple and the power of experts


Apple’s famous innovation process is something that Steve Jobs built when he returned to the company. By restructuring teams internally, Jobs ensured that Apple’s primary purpose was to “enrich people’s lives.” This purpose powers the company’s activities throughout the innovation process. 

Firstly, Apple’s innovation strategy is double-sided. It creates ground-breaking products like the iPhone and innovates within those existing product categories (e.g. improving camera lenses in their phones and adding new features in every iteration).

Secondly, Apple believes in the power of experts, not managers. The belief is that it’s easier to train experts to manage than to train managers to be experts at something. And when you’re a company that needs to innovate quickly to keep up, you can’t entrust decision-making to someone who doesn’t know the category well. So that’s why every manager at Apple is, most importantly, an expert in their field. 

The people and exemplary leadership of Steve Jobs and his successors helped Apple build its innovation and product development processes into what they are today.

Starbucks and the power of the customer


Another brand that has seen great success through innovation is Starbucks. The company’s innovation process is tightly wrapped around their customers and improving the experience they have at their stores.

Their ‘My Starbucks’ idea demonstrates how the company values open conversations with customers to create something new. And all they needed to do was ask people which flavors they wanted the coffee chain to make. 150,000 ideas later, Starbucks launches its now iconic item - the Pumpkin Spice Latte - which millions of people enjoy today. That’s product innovation at its best.

Starbucks’ innovation process is also linked to new trends. For example, when mobile payments became popular in the mid-2000s, Starbucks quickly hopped on the trend and launched its own mobile payment system. Not only did they increase their sales thanks to mobile ordering, but they also improved the customer experience; people no longer had to wait in long lines to pick up their orders. Wanna know what else? Today Starbucks’ app is the second most downloaded mobile payment app in the US. 

Google and the power of experimentation


We think Google’s innovation process is kind of similar to ours. We both like to improve things all the time and have a set process to do that. 

Firstly, Google requires some of its employees to spend 80% of their time on their usual work and 20% of their time on projects of their choice. This allows employees to actively make more time for innovation - they are encouraged to “play in the sandpit” and come up with ideas in the areas of their preference.

They then bring their own projects to the team, and teams then prioritize the ones that have the most potential and will make their services even better. The best part is that over 50 of Google’s new products actually resulted from its employees’ 20% time investments (Gmail was one of those side projects).

Even though Google values experimentation, it also values hard data. Of course, as a company founded by two computer science graduate students, Google leverages data all the time to support critical decisions. Whether it’s insights from their customer base or data from their partner websites, Google relies on proof points in data to stay on top of the competition in the long term.

That’s it, folks

These examples of a few different approaches to the innovation process show that innovation needs to be fostered from within the organization, and there isn’t necessarily one cookie-cutter way of doing things. We have a great article about the importance of an innovation culture and how to build it.