More and more variety is available in products and services these days. How does anyone come up with something really new? Once in a while a totally new idea shows up. The Apple iPhone with its finger manipulated touch screen was one such “new idea.” This is now being widely copied by most smart phone makers.
There is another approach that has become pervasive in the quest for innovation. That is using “hybrids”—one from each of two or more design concepts—merged to take advantage of the best properties of each. Consider a list of a dozen “hybrids” that have become successful in this regard. Each has a unique and innovative advantage created by combining one or more, older and proven concepts.
1. Automobiles: These highly visible products have merged/combined the use of the gasoline engine with electric motors to improve fuel efficiency significantly.
2. Agricultural Crops: Hybrid seeds (corn was one of the first) were developed to eliminate vulnerability to pests, disease, etc. and offer superior characteristics. Arguments are still raging whether this familiar hybrid has gone too far, but suffice it to say that America’s agricultural productivity would be not nearly so great without hybrid seeds.
3. Golf Clubs: New “utility clubs” are often called hybrids because they use the head shape and mass of a “wood” and the face angle and loft of an iron, making it easier, especially for amateur golfers, to hit balls solidly out of difficult lies.
4. Bicycles: Hybrid bicycles have found a popular consumer niche midway between fat-tire mountain bikes or beach cruisers and lightweight racing/touring bikes. These hybrids offer a more comfortable upright riding position and a stable ride but with less weight and rolling resistance than their fat-tired brethren.
5. Carpet Extractors & Steam Mops: A carpet extractor combines a vacuum cleaner with a shampoo and water dispenser to clean carpets. Combining a floor mop with a heated water supply makes a self-contained hybrid cleaning device for hard surface floors.
6. Decking: Plastic and wood composites have made decking nearly impervious to weather and eliminated the need to treat or preserve the decking at regular (annual?) intervals. Various combinations of materials, textures and structural properties have made this the decking of choice (over wood) for those who can afford it.
7. Pepcid Complete®: This antacid remedy combines a traditional, faster acting antacid tablet with a somewhat slower acting stomach acid reducer in a simple, chewable form—an ideal combination of two different approaches in a single product.
8. Cold Remedies: These have take the concept of “hybridization” to wild extremes, combining decongestants, antihistamines, anti-tussives and pain/fever reducers in a nearly infinite variety of formulas and delivery means (tablets, time-release capsules, liquids, gel-caps, etc.).
9. Juice Boxes: While presenting a recycling dilemma, the laminated cardboard, foil and plastic containers make use of the best properties of each material to form a durable, portable and leak-resistant drink container for children’s lunches.
10. Bi-Focals, Progressive Glasses & Contact Lenses: Combining the visual correction for near, intermediate and distance vision, eye wear can now accommodate a huge range of vision correction. What was once only possible with eyeglasses can now also be done with contact lenses.
11. Retailing: Web based retailing with on-line ordering and in-store pickup or home delivery uses the simplest, most convenient and cost-effective features of each method of selling and fulfillment. A variation used by amazon.com and many other web retailers, is where the products are ordered on its web site but fulfilled by an entirely separate entity on a “drop ship” basis.
12. The iPad/Tablet Computer: This new form of device, which will soon be mimicked by many others, combines the touch-screen convenience of Apple’s iPhone, its user friendly interface, and tens of thousands of “Apps” (to do almost anything) with many features of a portable computer. These devices are making old-fashioned photo albums and music players increasingly obsolete, and will soon threaten conventional books.
In every case above, the hybrid was not a totally new product in itself. However, by merging the best features and performance of older, proven technologies and designs, an even better combination was the result. Thus, “Hybridization” must qualify as an important new form of innovation in growing global marketplaces.
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John L. Mariotti is President and CEO of The Enterprise Group. He was President of Huffy Bicycles, Group President of Rubbermaid Office Products Group, and now serves as a Director on several corporate boards. He has written eight business books. His electronic newsletter THE ENTERPRISE is published weekly. His website is Mariotti.net.