Once you’ve launched your new product or idea, it’s time to think about the downstream effects!

I am fairly confident that we can agree that YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter could be categorized as “innovative” ideas/products/services. No doubt they have changed the way we interact in every aspect of our daily personal and professional lives. Each had its own innovation “life cycle,” ranging from solving a problem of how to share a video from a party to creating a spin-off of Harvard’s “Hot or Not” system (Facemash).

Needless to say, all of these companies have reached the “big time.” With success comes challenges, and with challenges comes the need for continuous innovation. For example, a recent report by Credit Suisse estimates that 375 million people around the world will play about 75 billion YouTube videos this year, requiring 30 terabits per second (yes, that’s not a typo) worth of bandwidth to deliver the video streams to the desktop. And according to a recent TechCrunch analysis, to store the nearly 850 million photos that are uploaded each month, Facebook is buying a new NetApp 3070 storage system every week. This is in addition to the 50,000 servers they expect to add this year and next to keep up with the phenomenal growth.

The point of this post is not about “leads and feeds” statistics (even though for techies they are kind of fun). It’s about thinking of the downstream effects of your innovation life cycle. Once you’ve cleared that first hurdle of successfully bringing your idea to market you are immediately faced with the challenge of sustaining momentum. But if you wait until you complete the initial innovation cycle to start thinking about the downstream effects, well… you’re doomed.  You have to be prepared to enter into a mode of innovation “loops” with continuous feedback cycles.

It’s kind of like fighting the mythical Lernaen Hydra – cut off one head and two grow back. It’s a never-ending cycle, and you have to fight all the heads at once. Thus, once you have begun the innovation life cycle it is no longer a serialized process.

There are lots of different methods, models, best practices and tools available (many identified on this web site) to approach this problem.  Given that I am an IT person, I can point to ITIL as an example of how you can manage service innovation and continuous improvement.

I think the reason that YouTube, Facebook and Flickr have been able to solve some of these technical challenges is that they hired really smart, innovative people early on to tackle these problems, and have learned to effectively manage innovation “loops.” Twitter on the other hand… well, they still have some learning to do in this area.  But they will get there.

Technology innovation alone will not make or break these companies. They each have their own unique revenue generation and cost control challenges – all of which have been getting significant press coverage lately.  But if they apply the same level of continuous innovation across the entire business model as they have in the technology aspects of their business, then I think we will see some pretty creative solutions from all of them. These are really smart people and we can all learn from them (and their mistakes!)

Oh, and for you techies, if you want to see some pretty cool stuff take a look at how Facebook is attacking the photo storage world.