James Gardner, in his book, “Sidestep and Twist,” talks about innovation and spending and the fact that over the past 10+ years, Microsoft has spent between four to five times as much on research and development as Apple.

If the conventional wisdom about innovation and R&D was correct, then surely the opposite should have been true. The myth is this: if you invest to create something genuinely new, something that’s a breakthrough, you have a better than average chance of windfall returns.

Gardner details that the reality is that there has not really been a genuine breakthrough innovation that led to big profits in the last couple of decades — that few of these ideas are profitable at all. All the “hit” products are simply incremental improvements on something else.  Competitive advantage is now less about features and more about building products that get better the more they are used over time.

Users see things that inventors often don’t, and thus they can make suggestions that others really can’t.

Sometimes, you just have to put a team together and take things apart and look at them to see new possibilities

Most organizations focus on Big New Ideas and put a lot of spending focus on those things. The reality is that a LOT more can be gained through simple continuous continuous improvement of functionality and effectiveness.

People that are closest to the product (or service) can often give you a LOT of ideas about what improvements can be made. Only very occasionally are those ideas from a single individual, however. Many more ideas can come from “The Collective,” the overall intelligence and intelligent conversations of people about the current state of how things work and the possibilities that exist for innovation and improvement.

And giving them time to consider and talk is both profitable as well as motivating. People generally respond very well to the challenge of, “Can we make this better?”

And the more we think about things, the better we actually THINK about things. The creative innovative process is a people thing.