The Sharp Edge of Innovation

It is no hidden secret that innovation is a necessity to compete in today’s marketplace. Often hailed as the Holy Grail for which every organization should strive for, sustainable innovation requires a strategy from start to finish. From the “I” of Inspiration to the “N” of Net Result, you must commit yourself to the process in order to succeed.

But what happens when your innovation journey hits a dead end?

It’s worth noting that failure is an inherent component of this epic journey, and one which innovation champions need to be ready to celebrate as much as their successes. However, it is important to know which road you are traveling on. Are you on the way to the next evolutionary step or an innovation dead end?


In 1901 King C. Gillette fundamentally transformed shaving with the invention of the first safety razor. “The idea of clamping a smaller version of a straight edge onto a handle was genius – the blade was easier to control, which resulted in fewer nicks and cuts, and was replaceable when it became dull,” says Gillette’s website.

Since then we have seen the safety razor go through numerous innovations. From reusable to disposable, from one blade to five, and most recently back to one.

In a forum post from Badger and Blade, they asked their readers what innovations they want to see in 2013. One contributor left this amusing (although a bit facetious) recommendation, “I want to see the newest Gillette multi-cartridge thing. I’ve heard it has 12 blades, a lubricating strip that is 3 inches wide, 18 lifting fins and battery power to make it vibrate. I’ve also heard they put an MP3 player in the newest one…”

To be fair, the most recent razor released by Gillette is indeed battery operated. The Fusion Pro-Glide has five new and improved blades, a micro comb, an updated lubricating strip which lasts “25% longer,” and now has mineral oil to deliver the perfect shave.

The comment begs the question… where can Gillette go from here?

Most recently, in an effort to push into emerging markets, Gillette’s newest shaving system has just one blade, a light plastic handle, and a sharply (no pun intended) lower price. It seems Gillette is stepping away from product innovations and instead focusing on the low road, seeking to increase its market share by pursuing innovations in product delivery instead.

According to Tim Barrett, who follows the men’s grooming industry for Euromonitor, “U.S. razor volumes have fallen for the better part of a decade as customers cut back”. Jamie Hopkins for the Baltimore Sun points to the rising popularity of facial hair as one of the many reasons, but Barrett believes a negative feedback loop is the main driver. “Gillette raised prices to deal with lower sales, customers reacted by using fewer razors, and so Gillette raised prices”, he said. Now Gillette is focusing on new markets.

According to Doblin’s “Ten Types of Innovation”, creating new products is only one way to innovate, and on its own, it provides the lowest return on investment and the least competitive advantage.

What do you think this means for Gillette in the long run? Have they given up on creating the next big thing in shaving? Are they at a dead end? Or are they simply evolving as a company?

Leave your comments below…

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  • Jack Hipple

    As a TRIZ practitioner, I can tell you that what is happening here is a well established trend in many product areas. It is the TRIZ line of evolution known as Complexity/Simplicity. A product or system starts out as simple, features are added to it (that someone wants to pay for and that we know how to do). This continues until the system becomes so complex that simplification begins to occur, frequently by combining functions, or as Gillette has discovered, the entire world is not full of people who want to spend $10 for a razor. We have seen the same kind of thing happen (but not necessarily go full cycle yet) in remote controls, phones, copy machines, sunglasses, and a whole host of other items. The point here is that all of this is predictable and is not a surprise. It is one of the 8 primary lines of product evolution that we can see from the study of over 8 million patents.

  • David Bonneau

    A few years ago there was talk about a strain of grass seed which would grow to only two inches, eliminating the need for lawn mowers. Supposedly, Toro bought it and shelved it. Any ideas here that wouldn’t put them out of the razor business altogether ?

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