The Two Faces of Innovation

The year was 2000—and a small online bookstore began tinkering with an internal system to detangle the early days of eCommerce. Little did they know that their side project would become what is known today as Amazon Web Services; a breakthrough that transformed an internal cost center into the global cloud leader. You know how the rest of the story goes, shirtless Jeff Bezos, riding into space on a rocket. This is a prototypical example of what we know today as capital ‘I’ Innovation, or product innovation. Doing something novel, better, or more efficient, often driven by a growth imperative to sell more, produce faster, and become cheaper. But, product innovation at this scale is slow and often rare, requiring a stroke of genius combined with immense resources and a lion’s share of luck. 

There is another genre of innovation that can also generate business impact. Take Outdoor Voices for example. While Nike said that “If you have a body, you are an athlete”, Outdoor Voices diverged from the athletic imperative with just a tagline, “Doing Things.”. Doing things has nothing to do with how Outdoor Voices stitches together three-tone leggings, but everything to do with shaping a culture of recreationalists to be active and healthy. This is innovation delivered as an idea and what I want to call, for now, a moral innovation. While product innovation requires a breakthrough in technology, moral innovation posits that an idea can improve how people interact with the world. It’s an innovation in perspective that encourages unique behaviors and opens the door to new desires for products and services

But, here’s the kicker—these two faces of innovation go hand in hand. To achieve outsized impact, companies need to shape a new worldview and deliver a superior product. While OV’s moral innovation created a unique culture around their products, consumers found that the clothing products themselves didn’t meet performance standards. Leading them back to other legacy players, such as Nike, who consistently delivers product innovation to match their moral innovation. 

While grandiose product innovations are elusive, moral innovation is sometimes just a few insights away, potentially requiring no capital to unearth. By beginning with moral innovation (X), anyone can start challenging the status quo until they have the resources to add product innovation (Y). So, go and innovate! Inspire new realities, bring new communities into existence, and inject new creative momentum into the world. Because, innovation can begin as a simple idea—and we all have ideas.



Garrett’s Favorite Quote:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both. 

– François Auguste De Chateaubriand

Yellow Corridor by Olafur Eliasson

(Image: Olafur Eliasson)


Air Company continues to inspire me.

(Image: Air Company)


Scoutlook: Gabi

Scoutlook is an interview series where we highlight Scouts from across the company. To kick it off, we spoke with Gabriela Nishanyan, our assistant strategist