Innovating the Weakest Link

Innovating the Weakest LinkResponding to an article on why innovation is difficult, Tim Josling from Leura, Australia, wrote this to the editor of The Economist (January 26, 2013):

“Another useful insight is provided by something akin to Amdahl’s law in computer design, which holds that even if some components of a system are improving, the parts that are not improving will eventually dominate the performance of that system.

For example, for flights that are under 2000 miles a person will spend more time traveling to and from the airport, checking in at the airport, going through security and waiting for his bags than time spent up in the air.  Increases in aircraft speed would have less benefit that shortening the other bits of the journey time.”

Well said. In essence, this insight helps you think about the right target for your innovation efforts. Rather than try to improve the performance of you primary component, think instead about the supporting components and subsystems around it. These parts may be holding overall performance down. The customer realizes value from your main component, but then suffers from a lack of innovation in all the other activities around it.

This goes against conventional wisdom. Companies like Samsung cram more and more features into their products to improve performance, a phenomena called “feature creep.” Instead, they could be differentiating themselves by focusing on the ecosystem around their products – within what we call “The Closed World.” In doing so, they find new, unrealized value for the consumer which they will appreciate and perhaps pay for.

The bottom line: innovating the weakest link in your product or service may deliver the most value the fastest.

image credit: chain image from bigstock

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Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at and at

Drew Boyd




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