Pursue Innovation, Reject Novelty

There's a fine line between innovation that's useful and innovation that's a trendy novelty. A well-defined line could reduce operational risks and supply chain challenges.

As one PwC report points out, innovation is moving from something created in a lab towards something that creates value for customers. Said another way, as written here, innovation is “something different that has impact.”

Generally, over the last decade or two, the electronics supply chain has taken a number of steps that by those definitions fall into the innovation category. New software tools, along with better internal and cross-enterprise practices, have improved forecast and inventory visibility, product delivery, manufacturing process, and new product design — all of which have created value and impact.

But, where do we go from here?

While I've heard some great new ideas about the supply chain (like using the cloud to get closer to more real-time supply chain management), I don't know if that's necessarily innovative.

There is a fine line between innovation and novelty. Something that's new isn't necessarily innovative, and something that's innovative isn't always new. And, whether a new idea is innovative or simply novel, companies will assume some amount of risk by implementing it. The issue comes in distinguishing which risks to take and how much to risk.

PwC suggests that companies follow some of these steps as a way to draw a line in the sand and separate out innovation from novelty. Though not supply chain-specific, they certainly apply and are probably already implemented to some degree among thought leaders.

  • Become systematic about innovation. Companies considered to be the most effective innovators have developed structures that allow employees to think like entrepreneurs, empowering them to think about problem-solutions scenarios that address their everyday concerns. Also, they have strong leadership that provides centralized support.
  • Think about the long haul. To vet out innovative ideas from novel ones, and to have a continuous stream of innovative ideas to pull from, innovative companies establish a pipeline where both incremental ideas and long-term big bets are frequently percolating.
  • Embrace digital. PwC notes the many forms of innovation have resulted from the digitalization of operational models. The firm suggests companies define what more complete digitalization could mean for the business and examine whether the company is taking full advantage of existing digital tools.

At the end of the day, though, innovation doesn't happen in some back room somewhere. For companies and supply chain professionals, innovation that adds value and makes an impact involves getting closer to your suppliers and rolling up your sleeves to more fully understand the pain points. Until that happens, the industry could be looking at a lot of new ideas that may or may not have a lasting affect.

So, tell me, what innovative idea do you think will move the supply chain further?

50 comments on “Pursue Innovation, Reject Novelty

  1. Himanshugupta
    June 27, 2013

    Jennifer, you are right in pointing out that innovation does not happen in the board room but the policies that are made in board room often promote or kill innovation. For innovation to happen, its necessary to understand the problem then collaborate to find the solutions.

    Today one problem that electronics supply chain is facing is the time gap between demand and supply. If we can find better models, which can predict the demand much in advace so that the gap can be reduced then we can save a lot of money from inventories, storage, transportation.

  2. prabhakar_deosthali
    June 28, 2013

    I agree that if we are able to predict the demand and changes in the demand right then our whole supply chain can be aligned with respect to the demand.

    Unfortunately predicting the demand is easier said than done. It is like the weather forecasts which generally become the subject of joke for the common public -( if the forecast is rain then you should surely carry a goggle with you  and like that)

    The Big Data and all those associated analytical tools are expected to bring in some innovation in this area where the consumption patterns would be analyzed to forecast the demand in real time.

    I would call this an innovation that may lead to some dramatic change in Supply chain tools

  3. Susan Fourtané
    June 28, 2013


    Big data is already bringing great opportunities to transform the supply chain. It's also a great oppotunity for developing new skills that will be in demand when automation completely takes over the factories. 


  4. ehcaneda
    June 28, 2013

    Should I add Big, unstructured and unmanaged data for supply base management and electronic counterparts.

    I agree this is an opportunity for solution industries to solve this problem in SBM by automation and creating integration system to cut lead times and communication gaps between end points. But what's unique about SBM is its vulnerability to alot of factors like political crisi, regional economic and disasters. Good luck

  5. elctrnx_lyf
    June 28, 2013

    The definition of innovation is continuosly under transfomring because of the way the over alltheme of business is moving toward the customers. Customer satisfaction and the need fullfilment are the high priority for any business and they need to be innovative to think about the market need and create a product that is not in there but could be really useful. For supply chian professional they have to innovate by implementing the new process or tools to improve the overall companies buying capabilities and requirements.

  6. t.alex
    June 28, 2013



    I totally agree with you on this. Sales and industry forecasts are sometimes worse than weather forecasts. For big companies, just a small change of the forecasts can lead to big  swing at the suppliers, over-/under- stocking of parts. Hopefully bigdata analysis can bring something fresh for the industry.


  7. Cryptoman
    June 28, 2013

    Digitisation and the introduction of new tools is critical for success. However, such innovations nees to be introduced to the users in an effective way. Most users prefer to stick to the methods they are accustomed to and this makes it difficult to get them to try new tools. I think this is the key challenge in making digitisation work effectively in the supply chain.

  8. ahdand
    June 29, 2013

    Why do you want to reject novelty ? I think innovation happens based on novelty, so if you try to reject novelty then there will be a direct impact on innovation.      

  9. _hm
    June 29, 2013

    I see most innovations in supply chain, as related to design engineer, coming mostly from troika of Digikey, Mouser and Newark. 90% of time they come to help – for parts, literature and education.

    Most bigger vendor troika of Arrow, Avnet and Nu Horizon doing not so good or poor job. Semiconductor vendor FAE also looks little tired and lethargic. They forget most questions in second phone call and ask them again and again. They may also disappear for unpredictable hiatus.

    We need to see more innovation from them as they take much bigger part of profit in supply chain, but little of contribution.

  10. Cryptoman
    June 29, 2013

    I am not sure how different the two terms are. Following is what a popular digital dictionary says.

    Innovation: introduction of something new; change, new method or practice

    Novelty: innovation; something new; discovery

    Therefore, the two terms are very close to one another in terms of meaning. If we think on the basis of their public use, I think novelty leads to innovation if it is nurtured properly and followed through patiently. Novelty that is short lived cannot become innovation and although it can influsnce the masses, it has a short life span.


  11. Wale Bakare
    June 29, 2013

    >>Sales and industry forecasts are sometimes worse than weather forecasts<<

    This's a good way to compare it. I can't distant myself from it may be tools currently used by some and, i think markets analysis somehow incongurent with market reality. Right innovative tools not available? Meanwhile,how best do you think big data may impact positively on the industry?

  12. Susan Fourtané
    June 29, 2013


    I was wondering about the same thing about innovation and novelty. 


  13. Cryptoman
    June 29, 2013

    Maybe we should really be discussing innovation versus hype or phase or something. Not sure…

  14. Susan Fourtané
    June 29, 2013


    Innovation versus hype sounds like a good discussion, especially when so much hype is given to certain things.


  15. Tom Murphy
    June 29, 2013

    Wale:  Predictive analytics — the marriage of big-data and analytic tools to prepare highly accurate forecasts — is essentially what has made it possible today to give people a five-minute warning of a tornado instead of the 20-30-second warning that was the best-case reality just five years ago.

    Today, the very same technology is used to prepare highly localized yield predictions for farmers based on anticipated long-term weather patterns. And it is also avaiable to just about any other kind of business — including manufacturers, suppliers, shippers and other in the supply chain.  Why don't more use it?  Good question.

  16. Tom Murphy
    June 29, 2013

    Cryptoman, Susan:  Indeed, as a veteran of the dot-com bubble, my head is still reeling from the grandiose prognostications of the mid- to late-90s.  To me, innovation is what you hold in your hand and prompts you to say “This is awesome.”   Hype is that stuff that people say will be “awesome” soon.  Advice: Never try to hold your breath when waiting for “soon” to arrive.

  17. Tom Murphy
    June 29, 2013

    Nimantha:  I believe “novel” comes from the French word meaning “new.”  Innovative suggest something more to me — a new way of approaching a problem. Hence, the former suggests to me an evolutionary change, while the latter suggests a revolutionary change.

    Of course, neither is important until you can touch it.

  18. Houngbo_Hospice
    June 29, 2013

    @Cryptoman, Nowadays, a smartphone will no longer be consider a novelty nor an innovation, but a new feature added to it that does new things could be consider innovation, right?

  19. Wale Bakare
    June 29, 2013

    >>Why don't more use it?<<

    @Tom, one interesting aspect of science and/or mathematics that is responsible for the shift in more adoption of software over hardware in world of innovation – more implementation of mathematical/probabilistic theorems and of course algorithms. Yes, i cannot doubt implementation of Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning on data mining and predictive analysis, without mincing words it's been greatly and effectively revolutionizing social web scene for an instance and, shaping mobile apps as well.

    In addition, the high performance computing data such as information on oil discovery and exploration not out in application areas.

    Nevertheless, i have been more critical about sales forecast recently.

  20. Cryptoman
    June 29, 2013

    I think this depends on the feature in question.

    If the feature is a gimmick and attracts a lot of attention at first but then quickly fades away, I don't think we can call it an innovation. A good example of this is the thousands of interesting looking applications that we download to our phone, play with it for a while and then delete. Such features are consumed very quickly and cannot stand the test of time like a true innovation does.

    For example, touchscreen on phones is an innovation in the true sense of the word. It has transformed the way we interact with an existing device adding substantial value to it. In other words, once you try it, you don't want to go back. Voice activation on the other hand has not shown the same success as an interface although many of us have played with it to experiment it but then went back to our conventional interfaces.


  21. Wale Bakare
    June 29, 2013

    @HH, there are features of smartphones that are considered innovations one of which was raised by Cryptoman. Blackberry's Pinging/BBM could be considered one that's been a driving factor to its success in smartphone business world, unfortunately new universal messenger app is in town. That's gradually impacting negatively on Blackberry's BBM popularity especially amongst youths.

  22. ahdand
    June 30, 2013

    Yes without novelty there is no innovation. Innovation is something which comes hand in hand with novelty. 

  23. prabhakar_deosthali
    June 30, 2013

    In my opinion Innovation is something that is incremental improvement to an existing concept/idea/product/methodology. Whereas Novelty is something originally new.

    If we see Wikipedia meaning for NOVELTY it say

    novelty in patent law is part of the legal test to determine whether an invention is patentable. A novelty effect is the tendency for performance to initially improve when new technology is instituted.

    Whic basically implies that Innovation and Novelty go hand in hand.

  24. Himanshugupta
    June 30, 2013

    @Wale, you hit the head of the nail as most of the innovation now a day is happening around software. Most of the hardware upgrade RnD is expensive and there are not so many companies putting their money behind it. Software is way behind the hardware in terms of performance and capability so more of the innovation is bound to happend around software.

  25. Himanshugupta
    June 30, 2013

    @prabhakar, i understand your point but novelty in IP in most of the time is overrated. Most of the patents are issued for minor improvement of the existing methods or in rare circumstances for a novel idea.

  26. Houngbo_Hospice
    June 30, 2013

    @Criptoman, Are you suggesting that an innovative feature is the one that lasst in time? What should then be the lifespan of an innovative product?

  27. Houngbo_Hospice
    June 30, 2013

    @Himan, An improvement to an existing product is that an innovation or an novelty?

  28. Houngbo_Hospice
    June 30, 2013

    @Prabhakar, According to those definitions, both terms may refer to an improvement or not of an existing concept. There may be some places where both concepts will be used to mean the same thing.

  29. Taimoor Zubar
    June 30, 2013

    In my opinion Innovation is something that is incremental improvement to an existing concept/idea/product/methodology. Whereas Novelty is something originally new.”

    @Prabhakar: I kind of agree with you. I think innovation can be anything that's not been there before – be it a new product or service or a better way to product an existing product or service whereas a novel product or service is one which had never been heard of or thought of before.

  30. Taimoor Zubar
    June 30, 2013

    Software is way behind the hardware in terms of performance and capability so more of the innovation is bound to happend around software.”

    @himanshugupta: I think it differs from organization to organization. Some companies may find that innovating to a new hardware platform might give better results through the existing software. Yes, software innovation is cheaper, but more than the cost of innovation the decision depends on the outcome of it and the value of it to the business.

  31. Cryptoman
    June 30, 2013

    Basically, yes. Because sustainance in time reflects the degree of common perception and of usefulness in the public eye. Test of time is the most reliable metric while assessing true innovations.

    The answer to your question about the lifespan of an innovation in this case is “the longer the time, the better the innovation”

  32. Nanci
    July 1, 2013

    Now that i think of this, i'd say one of the key things is that innovation is always as a result of problem solving while novelty may not be. As a result, innovation may sell more in the market as opposed to novelty on a general scale.

  33. Daniel
    July 1, 2013

    “innovation is moving from something created in a lab towards something that creates value for customers.”

    Jennifer that's true. When an innovation/technology gets productized, then the ultimate aim of that innovation becomes fruitful. Otherwise it's like something in dump yard.

  34. Daniel
    July 1, 2013

    Taimoor, I think there should be some distingussion between these two, innovation and Novelty. Which comes first, innovation or novelty.

  35. Ariella
    July 1, 2013

    It's not always easy to distinguish the two. For example: are touchscreens innovative or just expressions of novelty? I'd ask the same about 3D displays. 

  36. Wale Bakare
    July 1, 2013

    Novelty is a new idea in a state of concept, nurtured and yet to undergo a design or development and perhaps tested before going to the market.

    Innovation is an original thing or new solution that has been metamorphosised through concept, design/development, tested and is finally available in market or public. It's basically an application of new thing.


  37. Wale Bakare
    July 1, 2013

    Innovation is more of a new thing in practice while novelty is a new thing theoritically. Does this distinguishes the two?

  38. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    July 1, 2013

    Wale, i think this is a useful dinstinction…. In a way, it makes novelty seem more important than I had previously though. I think of games and toys (i.e. novelty store) when i hear that word. This broadened it out for me. thanks!

  39. Ariella
    July 1, 2013

    @Wale I'm not sure I would limit innovation in that way. Generally, we think of innovaton as a greater accomplishment than novelty. Most companies stress that their people are “innovtors,” not “novel thinkers.”

  40. Ariella
    July 1, 2013

    I tried to find a discussion of connotations — not just dictionary or indiosyncratic definitions — and found this for the terms applied to science :What counts as “innovation” in the new NIH grant format?  

    I've had hundreds of “novel” ideas in my life. In most cases, I wasn't in the right place/time to implement them, and within a year or two of my own “novel” idea, someone else came up with a very similar idea and implemented it. If you look at the history of scientific revolutions, most “discoveries” attributed to a single person often had other people around the world coming up with similar ideas at about the same time.

    In this highly connected internet age, this is truer now than ever. The rapid flow of information gets people into similar thought patterns, so that they are more likely to come up with similar (or identical) ideas simultaneously.

    If you do something that's been done 100 times before, you can't call it innovative.

    But on the flip side, just because you come up with something “new” or “novel”, you can't necessarily call it innovative, either.

    Innovation implies not only newness, but a sense of unique utility. Here's an example:

    Drinking water borne disease in Africa is a huge problem, killing many thousands every year. Traditional approaches to dealing with this have included development and distribution of antibiotics and vaccines, and implementation of sanitized water systems. But both solutions have been problematic because the infrastructure doesn't exist for maintaining and distributing a drug supply, nor are there adequate resources to maintain proper large scale water sanitation.

    In comes the Lifestraw, a “water purifier straw”. This straw has a built in sanitizing water filter, and is light and small enough that it can be carried with the person wherever they go.

    Straws have been around for a long time. I've used water filters on backpacking trips since I was a child to get rid of bugs like Giardia. None of the ideas within the LifeStraw are truly new or “novel”.

    But combining these old ideas and applying them to solve a pressing problem is innovative. An innovative grant proposal will do the same thing: propose to solve a problem in new ways.

  41. Wale Bakare
    July 2, 2013

    >>Most companies stress that their people are “innovtors,” not “novel thinkers.”<<

    I cant disagree with you but innovation that could last for years a great one, also a new solution with a short time could be a great novel but not a great innovation. We have universities/research institutions out there nurturing inventions but with excellent novelty, PhD research works are typical examples. Many end up in libraries.

    In addition, tonne of university research theses are a great novels but not good enough for innovations. That means they cant longlive in market.

    Even with that, innovation still not happening as expected in companies. Where are the R&Ds of the companies today? Research and development should allow new solutions with a fine-grain concept note, testing/formalization and implementation. These would make them good novels. If they are successful in market, then great innovations.

    Nevertheless, some organizations unfortunately today do not create enough environment for employees to create a great new solutions. Why are companies making more acquisitions? Android, Youtube and Whatapps are a great typical innovations bought by Google. Since Blackberry's innovation of BBM/Pinging, is there any new innovation(s) from Blackberry? How would time-to-market gives room for employees to produce new solution(s)? Although, very few companies still struggling with R&Ds.

  42. t.alex
    July 2, 2013


    FAEs I believe for the most part are graded based on sales figure rather than based on level of technical support. This is from my experience of interacting with FAE guys. 

  43. Daniel
    July 3, 2013

    “It's not always easy to distinguish the two. For example: are touch screens innovative or just expressions of novelty? I'd ask the same about 3D displays. “

    Ariella, you are right. It's very difficult to distinguish between these two because both are integral part of each other.

  44. Daniel
    July 3, 2013

    Wale according to one article in “The Building Network”, an online website,

    “innovation is 'something different that has impact.' Note the definition doesn't have the word 'new' in it. Innovation is different from invention or the creativity that precedes it. Sometimes the best way to innovate isn't to invent but to reapply an idea that has been proven in another industry or market context.”

  45. Ariella
    July 3, 2013

    @Jacob from the explanation I saw in the piece on innovation in science, the idea of innovation is that it offers a new solution to a problem. It doesn't necessarily involve new technology. The straw example offered combined two things that already were available to come up with a new solution to deal with a lack of potable water. 

  46. William K.
    July 4, 2013

    “Ueful innovation provides a benefit”, sort of a summary of the general consensus here. The novelty part does not provide a benefit, at least not a real benefit, but possibly a perceived one. 

    It all goes right along with the assertion that not all chenge is for the better.

  47. Daniel
    July 8, 2013

    Ariella, still both are confusion and peoples are using these two on their own perspective.

  48. Ariella
    July 8, 2013

    @Jacob I agree. That's why it helps for people to offer examples that clarify what particularl meaning they wish to stipulate for the term.

  49. Daniel
    July 9, 2013

    Ariella, this also confusing because may peopl will give their own examples, which may not fit to the context

  50. SunitaT
    August 1, 2013

    You need a strong complete strategy and that requires a lot of holistic thought. Plus, changes are happening so quickly, a mobile strategy can encompass maybe three years, at most. It is challenging as you cannot just single one thing out and say that is what we will do. You have to put a lot more thought into it.

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