A combination of detail and framework innovation is a potent recipe for business success, according to Jeffrey Baumgartner. What are framework and detail innovation? Read on to find out.

No, framework innovation is not about new ways of displaying pictures. Rather it is about creating broad new business frameworks or concepts, such as an all new product, a radical new business process, a new way of delivering products or a completely new way to manufacture products to name but a few examples.

Framework innovation is often disruptive innovation, but not always. Disruptive innovation implies there is an existing process that will be overturned. A framework innovation may result in an all new product or concept that does not disrupt an existing kind of product or concept. The world wide web is a good example. It was a highly innovative concept that has changed everyone’s life in the rich world and has had a profound affect on the developing world. Yet, the web did not really replace an existing technology or framework. Admittedly, people watch a little bit less TV and are less likely to read a printed newspapers now than two decades ago. But television and newspapers are still big businesses – both of which exploit the world wide web to their advantage.

Detail innovation, on the other hand, is about innovating within a framework. Detail innovation can be very small, such as incremental innovation. But it can also be very big. Mosaic was the first graphical web browser. It allowed people to see the web not as interlinked documents, but as a rich visual experience combining text with graphics – and eventually sound and multimedia. Mosaic eventually became the Netscape web browser and arguably kicked off the dot-com boom in the mid 1990s.

Mosaic, then, was a highly innovative product. Nevertheless, it was more of a detail innovation which fit within the innovation framework of the world wide web.

Framework innovation vs. detail innovation

Most innovation is detail innovation. We focus on improving existing products or developing new products that fit within an existing product line. But we seldom design all new products. We look at how to improve operational efficiency regularly. But we seldom even think about completely changing our operational process. We often consider how to enhance brand values in the minds of our customers, but rarely consider completely changing our brand identity.

There is nothing wrong with that. Detail innovation is important and it can be highly innovative. BMW and Mercedes Benz’s top line models are highly innovative cars marrying the latest in information technology with the latest in automotive engineering. Nevertheless, these are detail innovations. Both companies still make cars that fit within their brand identities and function as we expect cars to function (albeit with more functions than some people even want).

Still, it is important to at least think about innovation frameworks from time to time. Review the established frameworks of your company. Your operational frameworks, your logistic frameworks, your marketing frameworks, your product frameworks and brainstorm what new frameworks you might adopt to enhance or replace existing frameworks.

Both Mercedes and BMW do this with products. While much of their research and development focuses on improving existing cars at the detail level of innovation. They regularly explore alternative frameworks, in particular regarding engines and controls. But I like to think they also think about things like hovercrafts, rocket cars and other far wilder product frameworks.

In the mid to late 1990s, many companies looked at their operational frameworks with an eye to moving to an e-commerce framework. At the same time, numerous entrepreneurs devised innovative new business models based around e-commerce and later m-commerce (mobile telephone business).

A key mistake to avoid

During the e-commerce boom, many companies designed business models around selling their products on the web. But every other detail of their business model followed traditional bricks and mortar selling.

The mistake a lot of organizations make when establishing a new framework is to be innovative about the structure, but fail to innovate at the detail level. During the e-commerce boom, many companies designed business models around selling their products on the web. But every other detail of their business model followed traditional bricks and mortar selling.

The result was that they innovated insufficiently at the detail level and so were unable to build a sustainable business model using an innovative new framework with old-fashioned details tacked onto it.

For example, Webvan, a US based e-business, allowed consumers to order groceries on-line. A fleet of vans would deliver products to the consumers’ door – and, if memory serves, delivery was free. I recall when Web van launched, a 60 year old Scottish friend of mine remarked that when he was a lad, the same service was available in his village. His mother would ring up the grocer with her order and later in the day, the shop would send a boy on a bicycle to deliver that order.

So, the only innovative component of Webvan’s business model was selling groceries over the web, thus reaching a vast consumer base in a large city – which is far more complex to deal with than serving a Scottish village. You didn’t need a Harvard University MBA degree to work out that their business model was unsustainable. That’s not surprising. They innovated the framework, but none of the details.

Yet, had Webvan innovated further than just the shop-front, and filled their innovative framework with innovative ideas, they might have created a sustainable business.


So, when you do brainstorm innovative new business frameworks and find one that seems to work, don’t stop with the framework . Dive into the details and innovate there as well. And keep on innovating.

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

About the author

Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a new approach to achieving goals through creativity.