How to Know a Big Idea When You See it!


Driving Eureka!

An excerpt from my 7th book, Driving Eureka!...

The Innovation Engineering community’s definition of innovation is precise.

Meaningfully Unique

MEANINGFUL in that it has an obvious value to the customer. That is, the idea is so meaningful customers would willingly give up their existing behaviors for it. Importantly, it is also instantly understandable as to “Why should I, the customer, care?”

UNIQUE in that it is a genuine original. It’s a non-obvious leap that doesn’t exist in the world. Often it offers a quantifiable advantage such that you can put a number on how much better it is versus the existing alternative, if there is one.

How to Evaluate if Your Innovation Is Meaningfully Unique

The simple way to identify if your new or improved product or service is innovative is to ask the question: “Are customers willing to pay more money for it?” No customer wants to pay more money for anything. If they are willing to pay a premium, then the offering must be both meaningful and unique.

Conversely, if they are not willing to pay a premium—because they can achieve essentially the same benefit or effect elsewhere—then it’s a commodity. It’s not a requirement to charge a higher price for an innovation. It’s also possible to charge the same as competing offerings and use the increased demand to drive increased sales volume.

For system improvements or nonprofit causes, the equivalent question is: “Does the innovation offer a value that is so meaningful and unique that other stakeholders (departments, employees, partners) are willing to invest their time, energy, and/or money into changing from what they are doing now to the new approach?”

You can quantitatively assess your Meaningful Uniqueness by asking potential users, customers, and stakeholders for their ratings of Purchase Intent (Meaningfulness) and New and Different (Uniqueness) each on a 0–10 scale. Then you weight the average ratings 60/40 (60% Purchase + 40% New and Different). Our research has found this is the single most predictive measure of marketplace success with an innovation. Details on the data behind this can be found in the academic research article, “The real-time response survey in new product research: it’s about time,” published in the Journal of Consumer Marketing. I wrote it with Lynn Kahle of the University of Oregon and with Mike Kosinski.

Other qualitative ways to identify if an idea is meaningfully unique include:

  • Is the idea so surprising, so original, so newsworthy that it will generate word-of-mouth? Ideas that offer real news spread by word of mouth. Is your idea so original that customers would share it with others and on the internet via their social media outlets. A common question I ask is: “Would a customer post this innovation on Facebook, and if so what would they write?”

  • Does the idea instantly spark additional ideas? Great innovations set off a chain reaction of ideas because they open our minds to seeing the world in a new and different way.

  • Is the idea patentable? This is my personal favorite. Patentability is arguably the most clear and specific definition that exists for what is a true innovation. To be patentable the innovation has to be a “non-obvious leap” for someone who has ordinary skill in the field. And frankly, an idea that is obvious to someone like your competition would be hard to defend as a real innovation, wouldn’t it?

An innovation is also genuinely Meaningfully Unique when you just can’t stop thinking about it. When an idea is a real innovation you have an urgency to get started on making the idea real as soon as possible.

To read on click HERE to pre-order the book!

Doug Hall

The Driving Eureka! Newsletter is a compilation of case studies, new techniques, thought provoking insights, an occasional rant, and excerpts from my books 



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