The rules of innovation

Avi Wachtfogel
5 min readJan 26, 2021

1. Understand Your Value Proposition

2. Look Around

3. Bring others onboard

4. Use existing technology building blocks

5. Leverage your existing strengths

6. Don’t fall in love with your own ideas

7. Don’t run after the bandwagon

8. Dream

9. Break the rules (Including these)

10. Have Fun

1. Understand Your Value Proposition

Innovation is not just about having a good idea. Your idea should have a real added value. Ask yourself;

o Who are your customers? If this is B2B, who are your customer’s customers?

o How does it benefit your customers? Their customers?

o How does it benefit you?

If you can’t clearly state what the benefit is to the different parties involved in your idea, including yourself, there may be a problem with your idea. Amazon uses a great tool for clarifying your value proposition. They write the press release before they even start developing the product. The standard press release format includes descriptions of the product, how it is novel, and what kind of impact it is expected to make. If your imaginary press release also includes quotes from the various stakeholders with a clear statement of how this benefits each of the stakeholders, you’ll know that you have a clear value proposition.

2. Look Around

What’s already out there? There’s a good chance that someone is already doing whatever it is you want to do. Do not be discouraged by this. However, do ask yourself what your advantage is over whatever others are already doing. What is novel about your solution? Why would you succeed where others have not? Or perhaps you want to take on an incumbent. Go for it! Many of the greatest innovations were all about disrupting an existing business. Just make sure that you have enough of an advantage to convince customers to move. Keep your eyes open.

3. Bring Others Onboard

There are lot of people who have great ideas but if you keep it secret you’re not going to get very far. If you’re going to succeed, you want to get others involved. Chances are that you don’t have all of the skills needed to make your idea a reality. You need to know how to find the people with the skills and sell them on your idea. If you’re trying to progress a new idea in an established company you will almost always find that there are people who will make it difficult for you to get things done. Maybe it’s a political thing and people are hoarding resources that you need. To turn your idea into reality you need to know how to sell your idea to others. Seek out mentors and allies who can get resources and help you build and promote your idea.

4. Use Existing Technology Building Blocks

Keep an open mind about using available technologies when building your solution. There are many open resources available and cloud services that can provide almost any core functionality. Use them.

5. Leverage Your Existing Strengths

If you are doing innovation within an existing company, what are the strengths of that company? Innovation that takes advantages of the existing strengths within a company are much more likely to succeed. What are the core competencies of the company? What are the technologies that the company already has expertise in? Who are you existing loyal customers? If your idea utilized those competencies and technologies and is focused on your existing customer base, you are more likely to succeed.

6. Don’t Fall in Love With Your Own Ideas

Beware of the sunk cost fallacy. You’ve come up with a great idea and spent time and energy developing it. You’ve done the research and developed a prototype. You are now invested in the idea. It can be difficult for a person who is so invested to really see the faults in the idea and look at it objectively (you’re in love!). Always be ready to modify your idea or to even throw it out completely if it turns out there is little chance of success. It’s all part of the game. Move on to the next great idea.

7. Don’t Run After the Bandwagon

Don’t get caught up in the technology trends and feel you must use them. Your solution doesn’t need to be a machine learning, blockchain, quantum, cloud based solution to be successful. In many cases, simpler is better. Use the technology that is right for you and your idea. Don’t fall for the “argumentum ad novitatem” fallacy which fools us into thinking newer is better.

8. Dream

Do you want to be right over 90% of the time about which ideas will succeed and which won’t? It’s easy if you know the secret. The secret is that you tell everyone who has an idea that it will not succeed. You will be right over 90% of the time and you can feel pretty good about yourself. There are dreamers and there are skeptics. Successful innovators are dreamers. They are wrong 90% of the time. Skeptics are right 90% of the time but are rarely innovators. Be a dreamer.

9. Break The Rules (including these)

People look for rules on how to succeed. Don’t worry too much about the rules. Plenty of people have written books about how to succeed but the truth is that in most cases they are looking at people who succeeded and then telling you to behave like those people. Of course, this is a well-known fallacy known as “post hoc ergo propter hoc”, literally meaning “after this, therefore, because of this”. Just because something happened after something else doesn’t mean it was caused by it.

For every one of those success stories there are other people who did the same things and did not succeed and for almost every rule of success there are cases of people who succeeded by doing the exact opposite of the rule. Steve Jobs was a control freak and was said to be a jerk to people around him. Does that mean that the secret of success is to be a controlling jerk? Well, there are plenty of controlling jerks out there who are not successful and many cases of successful nice guys.

I’ve heard some people say that “the rule” to successfully innovate is to do something completely revolutionary, something that has never been done before. Well, there’s a lot to be said for success based on evolutionary innovation. Microsoft didn’t create the first or even the second operating system, word processor, spreadsheet, email client, gaming console, internet browser, cloud environment, etc, etc. In fact, I struggle to think of a single thing that Microsoft did before anyone else. Instead they took something that others had done and made incremental improvements or created a business case for users to use their software instead of others.

Don’t worry too much about the “rules”.

10. Have Fun!



Avi Wachtfogel

Leading software development and innovation for over 20 years. Always learning.