Why Slow and Steady Wins the Innovation Race Almost Every Time

Everyone seems to want radical innovation. We see minor improvements and re-branding of existing products as the next big thing, because it is seen as so desirable. Let’s look at the reasons why slow and steady or incremental innovations are almost always the better business plan.


  • Most radical innovations fail. Companies may compound the risk by putting all their resources into the new big idea and fail themselves if the product doesn’t succeed.
  • Even if the radical innovation succeeds financially, they may take decades to be accepted and become highly profitable.
  • Incremental innovations are common and you may have a wealth of such ideas already in your organization but ignored because managers were looking for a “big” idea. And in waiting, you fail to improve in any area.
  • A series of incremental innovations can lead to dramatic savings in cycle time, quality, manufacturability and every area of a product’s manufacture. Lowering ongoing costs for existing bread and butter projects increases profits now.
  • By seeking the ready opportunities for incremental improvements, you see savings or improvements in any area quickly for often a low cost and high return on investment. In contrast, the big new thing may be expensive to make and may not pay off.
  • Incrementalism allows for A/B testing of ideas for acceptance whether complimentary products or new features. Offering a new combined product in addition to the current one lets you see if the new one is actually better for the market without a major expenditure.
  • There is a bad tendency to look at radical innovation as “one and done”. The designers often rest on their wilting laurels as others come out with a similar product or service with incremental improvements and take over the market.
  • When a company succeeds with a radical idea, they tend to focus on finding the next big innovation instead of improving their current “big” idea or incremental improvements to other products. And that lightning may not strike a second time.