Innovation: Revolution, Evolution or a Combination?

While there are many definitions of innovation depending on the thinker’s lens, more often than not, innovation falls into two categories: revolution and evolution.

Revolutionary innovation is dramatic. It is most often associated with the introduction of products that transform the market—like personal computers, digital cameras, and interactive products like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. When we think of the entrepreneurs behind revolutionary innovation, we think of people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos or even Marie Curie. Revolutionary innovation can often require a high-risk investment. It is often expensive and warrants investments from funders—or sponsors—willing to take a risk that the proposed product, process, or system will indeed result in transformation.

Evolutionary innovation seeks incremental changes to existing products, processes, systems, and structures. It is not usually as expensive as revolutionary innovation. The outcomes are somewhat more predictable and easy to fix if they do not work. The incremental changes, too, require some risk, but not as much as in a revolutionary innovation. Evolutionary innovation is still growth, it is still change, and it can transform the marketplace—in every industry, including social services.

Those of us in the non-profit, social services leadership must work in an arena that affords a combination of both revolutionary and evolutionary innovation. We look for new ideas every day from every sector of our stakeholders including our board, staff, funders, and our business and non-profit partners. We seek investment in ideas that promise transformative results.

Our Get Ready!™ and PrepNOW!™ web-based products that help youth in foster care and their foster parents prepare for and succeed in the journey to college are examples of evolutionary innovation.  While there was already work occurring in the field to help young people in in foster care go to college, Fedcap designed innovative content and an innovative distribution approach to addressing the issue.

Every single day at Fedcap we explore both revolutionary and evolutionary innovation. Both are needed if we are going to solve problems, eradicate poverty and create pathways to economic well-being for populations vulnerable to living a lifetime of food, housing and job insecurity.   We look at existing structures, systems, and processes, and ask targeted questions that will garner innovation and result in  transformative outcomes for those with barriers to economic well-being.

How do you seek innovation—through revolution, evolution, or a combination of both?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.