Leaping Innovations

Teresa Kowal
4 min readFeb 26, 2020


This year we are lucky to have a leap day — February 29. Since paper calendars and solar calendars don’t quite align, every four years we get an extra day. Since February is a short month, clever people have added that extra day as February 29.

I think matters get confused a bit more because the following week (in the US) we “spring forward” one hour for Daylight Savings Time. We will recover that hour in the autumn when we “fall back” to Standard Time. I have permanently lost one hour during a business trip to Belgium and The Netherlands when the US on Daylight Savings Time and Europe was not. But that’s another story…

What is Leaping Innovation?

Basically, leap year gives us a chance to recover the time we lost in the previous three years and to set our calendars right with the sun and moon. Leap year is a misnomer since we are slowing down by adding a day and we were actually “leaping” past the fractional days in the intervening years.

A “leaping innovation,” on the other hand, is usually defined as one that advances the technology by a very large step. A lot of innovations are more incremental in nature — adding a small tweak to an existing feature or increasing the options available for an existing product.

For example, adding a calorie counter to a pedometer was an incremental innovation. The device already tracked a person’s number of steps, so adding a small calculation to convert steps to energy burned was a small task. Incremental innovations are important to product development and maintaining market interest.

In contrast, a personal fitness device that also gives notifications for incoming phone calls and tracks your running route with a GPS is a great leap forward from a basic pedometer. The technology for this innovation was both sophisticated and risky to develop. Moreover, new and existing customers required a degree of education to use the new product. Accompanying sales and marketing strategies were more elaborate than in the case of an added feature.

The late Clayton Christiansen taught us that sustaining innovations could be either incremental or a great leap forward. What differentiates a sustaining innovation from a disruptive innovation is how vastly a market is changed because of the innovation. Digital photography has transformed traditional image capture and supported the social media revolution.

Teams for Radical Innovation

Your team structure for designing and developing an incremental vs. radical or disruptive innovation is different. Project teams made of liaisons and subject matter experts can serve an incremental innovation while. In this case, depth of knowledge is more important than the breadth of knowledge. In the field of new product development (NPD), we call this a lightweight team.

When an innovation project requires significant technology and market development, and the resulting product is new-to-the-world or new-to-the-company, we use an autonomous team. Sometimes this is called a “venture team” to better describe the scope of work. A primary driver for the autonomous team is the project mission, and team members serve with both depth and breadth of knowledge. Customer orientation is another key aspect for a successful project team designing and developing radical innovations.

Build Your Teams

Great innovation teams don’t just magically happen once every four years like the 29th of February. Instead, successful NPD teams require nurturing and growth. Team leaders assign team members based on skill, purpose, and desire for customer satisfaction. Focusing on the needs of the project (e.g. depth and breadth of knowledge) helps to determine the right people at the right time to successfully innovate.

One mistake I have observed by many companies in new product project management is to over-allocate resources. One of the practices of successful innovators is to instead assign the most appropriate resources to an 80% level. This allows time for hiccups in the product development schedule as well as time for team members to really absorb and apply learnings in a strategic way.

Do You Want to Leap Forward?

If you want to leap forward in your innovation program, join me tomorrow for a free webinar. We will discuss 20 Tips of Innovation and team-building practices for success with incremental or disruptive innovations. Register here.

Extra bonus all attendees receive a copy of the 20 Tips of Innovation ebook and a complimentary work style assessment. See you on Friday, 28 February at noon CST.

About Me

I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. I am an experienced professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at info@simple-pdh.com or area code 281 + phone 280–8717 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.

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Teresa Kowal

I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. My passion is innovation and helping others improve their new product development ecosystems.