5 Reasons Why Continuous Innovation Beats ‘Moonshots'

We see why sustained innovation beats occasional big ideas


Google’s ‘Moonshots’ are the sign of an ambitious company who want to not only impact the wider business market, but society in general.

It has been claimed that ‘Continuous Innovation’ (a strategy deployed by Apple) is more beneficial and here are five of the reasons Continuous Innovation triumphs over ‘Moonshots’.

Google’s ‘Moonshots’ haven’t all been commercially successful

The company that coined the ‘Moonshot’ hasn’t always experienced explosive success with its radical project, the Google Glass, being dramatically axed at the start of 2015 - just months after its launch in the UK.

Sales figures have never been released, but the price of the Glass, coupled with its limited functionality, would have deterred many potential customers.

Whilst the glass should still be seen as a technological breakthrough, it was simply too alien for most to get on board with and this is one of the main reasons why ‘Moonshots’ are very risky - too much change, too soon, can be unsettling. This is why more incremental innovations often resonate with customers more readily.

Being the first-mover isn’t always necessary

The ‘first-mover’ concept is a theory which holds real academic weight. When it comes to technology however, ‘Moonshots’ are not always the key to sustained success.

The first MP3 player was the ‘Rio PMP300’ and whilst it was a commercial success at the time, ‘Diamond Multimedia’ failed to make any significant improvements to the product.

The ‘Rio PMP300’ would have been deemed a ‘Moonshot’ back in 1998, but it would be Apple and Sony that would have the most success with MP3 players, only releasing their respective MP3 players in the early 2000s when the technology was there to make them a sure-fire success.

Continuous innovation allows companies to grow organically

When you look at the array of ‘Moonshots’ that Google has in its portfolio, it’s not hard to see why Forbes contributor, Haydn Shaughnessy, says;

‘I can’t help thinking: this is either the new American conglomerate or they really don’t know where another big earner will come from, one that will equal their ads revenues’

There’s logic to Haydn’s comment. Due to their very nature, ‘Moonshots’ are radical and therefore removed from a company’s normal processes. This could lead to a reduction in focus and time lost on products which aren’t contributing anything to the company.

Continuous innovation allows companies to be inventive, but structured at the same time.

Incremental change is easier to manage financially

Ahead of Google’s annual shareholders meeting, co-founder, Sergey Brin, had to defend the heavy costs that come with its ‘Moonshots’.

The risks attached to ‘Moonshots’ are extensive, as not only do they cost a lot to implement, but even more so if they fail to capture the attention of the market.

Companies looking to ‘Moonshots’ must take advantage of new technologies and employ the best engineers to make their vision a reality. Doing innovation incrementally allows companies to train their staff appropriately and make continual investments in technology, which to some degree creates less of a financial burden.

It’s the way Apple does things

Boeing Chief, Jim McNerney, referenced Apple when announcing that they had opened up a new innovation centre in Silicon Valley.

The aircraft manufacturer is looking to move away from its ‘Moonshot’ stance on innovation, with an article in The Guardian stating;

‘Boeing’s chief executive, Jim McNerney, said last year that he wanted the company to be more like Apple in the way it innovates, rather than doing a ‘moonshot’ development every 25 years.’

Despite being a leading innovator, Apple spent just $4.6 billion from 2006 to 2010, whilst Microsoft spend $31 billion. What makes this even more impressive is that it was in these years that Apple was in the midst of its iPhone project. It is why a globally recognized brand like Boeing is willing to take their strategies into their own industry. 

Apple’s success shows that incremental innovations can be more economically efficient and lead to products that can create an entirely new market.


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