Breakthrough Innovation Examples, Definition, and How to Create

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The pursuit of innovation has become synonymous with success in business. For entrepreneurs navigating the ever-evolving market, embracing breakthrough innovation is not just a strategy—it’s a necessity. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the world of breakthrough innovation, exploring its definition, showcasing examples propelled by new technologies and business models, and providing a roadmap for innovation entrepreneurs to create their transformative solutions.

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At Digital Leadership, where we champion positive change, our mission is to guide organizations from strategy to execution, leveraging emerging technologies and innovative business models. As experts in innovation and digital transformation strategy, we believe in enhancing value creation for everyone we serve. In this article, we delve into the world of breakthrough innovation, exploring examples, defining the concept, and providing insights into how to create transformative solutions.

What is Innovation

Innovation definition is a dynamic and intricate concept that encompasses the process of introducing fresh ideas, methods, products, or services to instigate positive change and amplify value. It transcends mere invention, placing emphasis on the pragmatic application of inventive thinking to bring about tangible improvements across various facets of business, technology, or society. Innovation entails a continual and adaptive journey, necessitating organizations to cultivate a culture that fosters creativity, embraces change, and pursues solutions leading to meaningful advancements.

To delve even deeper into the world of innovation, we invite you to explore our book, “How to Create Innovation.” Born out of a global research project involving 60+ thought leaders, this resource covers all aspects and models of innovation and digital transformation. Find solutions and strategies to transform your strategy and culture successfully.

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What is Breakthrough Innovation Definition

Breakthrough innovation is sometimes used interchangeably with disruptive innovation, while others define it as a distinct and noteworthy technological advancement that significantly impacts the efficiency or cost of a particular product, service, or process. But what exactly is breakthrough innovation? It’s a type of innovation, that is not merely about incremental advancements; rather, it’s a leap into the uncharted territory of novel ideas, redefining industries and reshaping customer experiences. In the words of the entrepreneur, breakthrough innovation is the key to unlocking unprecedented value.

Entrepreneurs navigate the intricacies of the innovation process and craft a roadmap through strategic innovation strategy; they draw inspiration from diverse innovation examples, embracing the challenge of breakthrough innovation and exploring avenues such as adjacent innovation and radical innovation. This journey is guided by the careful orchestration of the innovation lifecycle and the artistry of prototyping, all while uncovering the well-guarded innovation secrets that propel transformative ideas into reality.

The UNITE Innovation Approach allows you to understand each step in the entire journey and is thus a basis for planning, stakeholder communication, and process and tool selection. Why not put it on the wall of your team’s innovation workshop, so that everyone knows where you are and where you are headed? We have the print-ready versions included for you!

Innovation Process - Process Approach
The Unite Innovation Approach
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG

Breakthrough Innovation Examples Using New Technology and New Business Models

To truly grasp the essence of breakthrough innovation, we turn our attention to pioneers who have seamlessly woven new technologies and business models into the fabric of their success stories. Let’s explore some remarkable examples that have not only disrupted industries but have set new benchmarks for innovation.

Dyson Breakthrough Innovation

Dyson, the household name synonymous with cutting-edge vacuum technology, stands as a testament to breakthrough innovation using new technology. From bagless vacuum cleaners to bladeless fans, Dyson’s commitment to pushing technological boundaries has transformed mundane household products into sleek, efficient, and groundbreaking solutions.

Apple Breakthrough Innovation

Apple, a trailblazer in the tech realm, has consistently introduced breakthrough innovations that transcend mere product launches for elevating user experience. The iPhone, an icon of technological prowess, redefined the way we communicate, work, and live. Apple’s commitment to seamlessly integrating technology with user experience sets a standard for breakthrough innovation.

Blippar Breakthrough Innovation

Blippar, an augmented reality company, represents the fusion of breakthrough innovation and visionary thinking using new technology. By overlaying digital information onto the physical world through smartphones, Blippar has opened up new dimensions in advertising, education, and entertainment.

While breakthrough innovation often manifests in revolutionary products, it equally extends its reach to reshape business models. Let’s explore some groundbreaking examples that have embraced innovative business models.


Microsoft’s journey in a software revolution from a software company to a global tech giant is a testament to innovative business models. The shift from selling software licenses to offering cloud-based solutions transformed Microsoft’s approach, showcasing adaptability as a cornerstone of breakthrough innovation.


Zipcar’s breakthrough innovative business model revolutionized urban mobility for unlocking shared mobility. By introducing a car-sharing platform, Zipcar challenged the conventional concept of car ownership, promoting sustainability and convenience.

Business model innovation is the driving force behind achieving breakthrough innovation within an organization. It transcends traditional product-centric approaches, encouraging a holistic transformation of how value is created, delivered, and captured. By challenging existing norms and fostering breakthrough thinking, business model innovation becomes a catalyst for differentiation in the competitive landscape. It enhances adaptability to change, maximizes resource efficiency, unlocks new revenue streams, and elevates the overall customer experience.

Business Model Innovation Patterns
The UNITE Business Model Innovation Patterns
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG – Building on the 10 types of innovation from Doblin, the SS Business Models from the University of St.Gallen, and the Business Model Gallery

Breakthrough Innovation Vs Disruptive Innovation: What is the Difference Between Them?

Breakthrough innovation and disruptive innovation are often used interchangeably, but they represent distinct concepts in the realm of business and technology. Breakthrough innovation typically refers to significant advancements or discoveries that push the boundaries of existing knowledge or capabilities. It introduces novel ideas, products, or processes that bring substantial improvement without necessarily disrupting existing markets.

On the other hand, disruptive innovation is characterized by the introduction of entirely new products or services that disrupt and reshape existing markets. Disruptive innovations often target underserved segments, providing simpler, more affordable, or more convenient alternatives that challenge established players.

In essence, breakthrough innovation enhances and evolves existing paradigms, while disruptive innovation revolutionizes industries by fundamentally altering the competitive landscape. Both are vital for driving progress, but understanding their nuances is crucial for organizations navigating the complex terrain of innovation.

AspectBreakthrough InnovationDisruptive Innovation
Nature of ChangeSignificant improvement or advancement within existing paradigms.Radical transformation that reshapes entire industries.
Impact on MarketsEnhances existing markets without necessarily disrupting them.Creates new markets, often at the expense of established ones.
ExamplesIntroduction of a groundbreaking technology within an existing industry.Emergence of a completely new product or service that renders existing solutions obsolete.
Target AudienceOften targets existing customers by providing upgraded or advanced offerings.Targets underserved or new customer segments by offering simpler, more affordable solutions.
Competitive LandscapeIncremental changes that coexist with established players.Challenges and displaces established players, leading to a shift in market dynamics.
Adoption SpeedMay take time for widespread adoption as it builds on existing foundations.Rapid adoption, often catches established players off guard.
Risk and UncertaintyTypically involves lower risk as it builds on existing knowledge and infrastructure.Involves higher risk and uncertainty due to the creation of entirely new markets.
Examples in TechnologyEvolutionary advancements in smartphone features.The introduction of smartphones disrupted traditional mobile phone markets.

Implementing Breakthrough Innovations in Business Innovation Strategy Steps

Breakthrough innovations don’t materialize overnight; they are the result of a strategic and methodical approach. Entrepreneurs keen on implementing breakthrough innovations in their business can follow these essential strategy steps.

1- Identify the Opportunity:

Harness the power of keen observation to identify customer needs or pain points in the market, paving the way for breakthrough projects. This initial step sets the foundation for innovation by pinpointing areas where breakthroughs can make a significant impact. The focus is on understanding the intricacies of the market and recognizing opportunities that can lead to transformative breakthrough projects with substantial value.

2- Define the Improvement Direction:

Clearly articulate the direction of improvement whether it’s increasing efficiency, enhancing customer experience, or introducing a revolutionary product, guided by a breakthrough strategy. This step ensures a focused and purposeful approach to innovation, where the chosen direction aligns seamlessly with the overarching breakthrough strategy. By establishing a clear improvement trajectory, organizations can channel their innovation efforts effectively, aiming for impactful and transformative outcomes.

3- Specify the Area of Improvement:

Pinpoint the specific aspect or domain where the improvement will take place—be it health, taste, efficiency, or safety. This precise identification ensures that the innovation is targeted and tailored to address a well-defined area of improvement. By honing in on the specific domain, organizations can direct their resources strategically, maximizing the potential impact of the breakthrough innovation in the chosen area.

4- Consider the Stakeholders:

Identify who or what will be directly affected by the improvement, whether it’s customers, employees, or the overall organizational structure. Recognizing and involving stakeholders in the innovation process is crucial for ensuring alignment with broader organizational goals. By understanding the impact on various stakeholders, organizations can navigate potential challenges, garner support, and foster a collaborative environment conducive to successful breakthrough innovation.

5- Set the Context:

Provide a contextual clarifier to define the situation in which the customer finds themselves. Adding this contextual dimension enhances the understanding of the customer’s environment, ensuring that breakthrough innovations are not only solution-agnostic but also deeply rooted in the real-world scenarios of the target audience. This contextualization enriches the innovation process, enabling a more nuanced and empathetic approach to understanding and meeting underserved customer needs within specific situations.

This structured approach ensures that the focus remains on the customer’s needs and the solution remains solution-agnostic, preserving the unique innovation power of breakthroughs.

The Business Model Canvas becomes an invaluable companion in the implementation of breakthrough innovations. It provides a structured and holistic view of the business, aligning seamlessly with the strategic steps and ensuring that breakthrough initiatives are not only innovative but also strategically grounded within the broader business context.

Business Model Canvas Template
The UNITE Business Model Canvas
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG – Building on the work of Alexander Osterwalder

Characteristics of Breakthrough Innovation

What sets breakthrough innovation apart from the ordinary? Understanding the defining characteristics is pivotal for entrepreneurs striving to create a transformative impact.

Breakthrough innovation is distinguished by several key characteristics that set it apart from incremental advancements. Understanding these traits is essential for organizations aiming to foster and leverage breakthrough innovation effectively. Here are the defining characteristics:

  1. Novelty and Uniqueness:
    • Breakthrough innovations introduce novel and unique ideas, products, or services that significantly differ from existing offerings. They go beyond incremental improvements, marking a departure from the status quo.
  2. Transformational Impact:
    • Breakthrough innovations have the potential to transform industries, markets, and customer experiences. They bring about substantial and positive changes, disrupting conventional practices and setting new standards.
  3. Risks and Uncertainties:
    • The pursuit of breakthrough innovation involves inherent risks and uncertainties. Organizations must navigate uncharted territory, embracing the unknown and taking calculated risks to achieve transformative outcomes.
  4. Customer-Centric Focus:
    • Breakthrough innovations are rooted in a deep understanding of customer needs. They aim to address unmet needs or solve significant pain points, placing the customer at the centre of the innovation process.
  5. Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration:
    • Achieving breakthroughs often requires collaboration across diverse disciplines. Teams with varied expertise come together to tackle complex challenges, fostering a culture of cross-disciplinary collaboration.
  6. Long-Term Vision:
    • Breakthrough innovation is driven by a long-term vision rather than short-term gains. Organizations committed to breakthroughs invest in sustained efforts, recognizing that transformative outcomes may take time to materialize.
  7. Holistic Approach:
    • It takes a holistic approach, considering the entire ecosystem and value chain. Breakthrough innovations extend beyond product features to encompass business models, processes, and even societal impacts.
  8. Disruption of Existing Norms:
    • Breakthrough innovations challenge and disrupt existing norms, pushing boundaries and overturning established practices. They question the status quo and redefine what is possible within a given industry or domain.
  9. Continuous Learning and Adaptation:
    • The journey of breakthrough innovation involves continuous learning and adaptation. Organizations must be agile, responsive to feedback, and willing to iterate as they navigate the complexities of transformative change.
  10. Global Perspective:
    • Breakthrough innovations often have a global perspective. They transcend geographical boundaries, aiming to address challenges on a global scale and capitalize on opportunities in diverse markets.
  11. Ethical Considerations:
    • Ethical considerations play a crucial role in breakthrough innovation. Organizations are mindful of the potential societal impact and ethical implications of their innovations, ensuring responsible and sustainable outcomes.

Understanding and embracing these characteristics is fundamental for organizations committed to driving breakthrough innovation. It requires a strategic mindset, a willingness to embrace uncertainty, and a dedication to creating transformative change in alignment with customer needs and broader societal values.

The Role Of Culture And Leadership In Achieving Breakthrough Innovations

Breakthrough innovations are not solely the result of individual brilliance; they thrive in environments cultivated by a unique blend of organizational culture and leadership. The interplay between culture and leadership plays a pivotal role in fostering the conditions necessary for breakthrough thinking and transformative outcomes. Here’s a closer look at the key aspects of culture and leadership in achieving breakthrough innovations:

1. Cultivating a Culture of Innovation:

  • Breakthrough innovations flourish in cultures that encourage curiosity, risk-taking, and a continuous pursuit of improvement. Organizations need to foster a culture that embraces experimentation, values diverse perspectives, and promotes a willingness to challenge the status quo.

2. Leadership that Inspires and Supports:

  • Effective leadership is foundational to breakthrough innovation. Leaders should inspire teams to think creatively, set a compelling vision for the future, and provide the support and resources needed for innovation initiatives. A visionary and supportive leadership style empowers teams to push boundaries and explore new possibilities.

3. Risk Tolerance and Learning from Failure:

  • Breakthrough innovations inherently involve risk and uncertainty. A culture that tolerates calculated risks and views failures as learning opportunities creates an environment where teams are more willing to take bold steps and experiment with unconventional ideas.

4. Cross-Functional Collaboration:

  • Breakthrough innovations often require collaboration across different functions and disciplines. A culture that promotes cross-functional collaboration and breaks down silos enables the synthesis of diverse perspectives, fostering a more holistic approach to problem-solving.

5. Emphasis on Inclusivity:

  • Inclusive cultures, where diverse voices and ideas are valued and heard, are more likely to generate breakthrough innovations. Leaders play a crucial role in creating an inclusive environment that encourages participation from individuals with varied backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.

Advantages of Breakthrough Innovation

Entrepreneurs embarking on the path of breakthrough innovation stand to gain numerous advantages that extend beyond product development. Here are key advantages:

  • Market Leadership:
    Breakthrough innovations position businesses as market leaders, setting the standard for competitors.
  • Customer Loyalty:
    Transformative solutions create a lasting impact on customers, fostering loyalty and brand affinity.
  • Adaptability:
    A culture of breakthrough innovation cultivates adaptability, ensuring resilience in dynamic markets.

Challenges of Breakthrough Innovation

While the rewards of breakthrough innovation are substantial, it’s essential to acknowledge and navigate the associated risks:

  • Investment Risks:
    Pursuing breakthroughs often involves significant investments, with outcomes that may not be immediate or guaranteed.
  • Market Acceptance:
    Revolutionary ideas may face resistance or scepticism in the market, necessitating strategic communication.
  • Operational Challenges:
    Implementing breakthrough innovations may pose operational challenges, requiring meticulous planning.”

How to Measure Innovation Success of Breakthrough

Measuring the success of breakthrough innovation involves more than just financial metrics. Entrepreneurs can employ a multifaceted approach to gauge the true impact of their transformative solutions:

  • Customer Feedback:
    Solicit and analyze customer feedback to understand the real-world impact of the innovation.
  • Market Share Growth:
    Monitor changes in market share to assess the innovation’s influence on the competitive landscape.
  • Employee Engagement:
    Assess the enthusiasm and engagement of internal teams involved in the innovation process.

Breakthrough Innovation in Entrepreneurship For Fostering Breakthrough Culture

Breakthrough innovation stands as the cornerstone in entrepreneurship for fostering a culture of continuous evolution and transformative thinking. Visionary entrepreneurs, driven by audacious goals, serve as catalysts for breakthrough cultures within their ventures. Embracing agile and adaptive practices, these entrepreneurial leaders champion experimentation and risk-taking, viewing failures as valuable learning experiences.

Cross-disciplinary collaboration becomes a norm, encouraging diverse skill sets to converge in the pursuit of groundbreaking solutions. A strong emphasis on customer-centric innovation ensures that breakthroughs resonate with the market, aligning products or services with genuine customer needs. Entrepreneurs instil an iterative mindset, promoting rapid prototyping and testing to accelerate the innovation lifecycle, the cultivation of a growth mindset within teams fosters a culture of continuous learning and resilience.

Celebrating breakthrough achievements becomes a crucial component, reinforcing the significance of innovation and creating a positive feedback loop. Ultimately, entrepreneurial leaders, through their visionary leadership and commitment to breakthrough thinking, shape organizations capable of navigating uncertainties and seizing transformative opportunities in the entrepreneurial landscape.

Industries Benefiting from Breakthrough Innovation

Breakthrough innovation isn’t confined to a specific industry; its transformative power extends across various sectors, reshaping the way business is conducted. Here are some industries witnessing significant benefits from breakthrough innovation:

  • Healthcare:
    Medical breakthroughs and biotech innovations are revolutionizing patient care and treatment.
  • Technology:
    The tech industry thrives on breakthroughs, with companies constantly pushing boundaries in software, hardware, and AI.
  • Automotive:
    Breakthroughs in electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and sustainable technologies are reshaping the automotive landscape.

Breakthrough Inventions and Innovation

Breakthrough Inventions: These refer to the creation of entirely novel products, technologies, or processes that represent a quantum leap forward in terms of capability, efficiency, or novelty. These inventions are characterized by their pioneering nature, introducing something entirely new to the world. Breakthrough inventions often involve groundbreaking discoveries, pushing the boundaries of what was previously deemed possible. They are the result of inventive genius and can revolutionize entire industries.

Breakthrough Innovation: It is a broader and more encompassing term. It refers to the implementation of novel ideas, practices, or solutions that bring about significant advancements or changes within an organization or industry. Breakthrough innovation includes not only inventions but also the strategic application and integration of these innovations into existing systems or processes. It involves a holistic approach, considering the entire innovation lifecycle from ideation to strategy execution.

AspectBreakthrough InventionsBreakthrough Innovation
ScopeSpecific creation of entirely new entities or processes.Encompasses a broader range of transformative advances, including strategic applications.
NatureCharacterized by pioneering and inventive discoveries.Includes inventive solutions but focuses on broader innovative practices and implementations.
LifecycleOften conceptualized during the ideation phase.Spans the entire lifecycle from ideation to implementation and integration into existing systems.
ApplicationMay or may not be applied in real-world scenarios.Involves the strategic application and integration of inventive solutions for significant advancements.

Balancing Breakthrough Innovation and Sustaining Innovation:

While breakthrough innovation drives transformative change, sustaining innovation ensures the continuous evolution of existing products and services. Striking the right balance between the two is essential for long-term success:

  • Continuous Improvement:
    • Sustaining innovation focuses on incremental improvements, and optimizing existing products and processes.
  • Disruptive Leap:
    • Breakthrough innovation introduces radical changes, propelling the organization into new and unexplored territories.

Achieving a balance between breakthrough and sustaining innovation requires a nuanced approach:

a. Strategic Alignment:

  • Align breakthrough innovations with the overall strategic business goals and vision of the organization. Ensure that these innovations contribute meaningfully to the long-term objectives and mission.

b. Resource Allocation:

  • Allocate resources thoughtfully between breakthrough and sustaining initiatives. While breakthrough projects may require more initial investment, sustaining innovations contribute to ongoing operational excellence.

c. Innovation Culture:

  • Foster an innovation culture that values both exploration and optimization. Encourage employees to contribute ideas for breakthroughs while also recognizing and rewarding continuous improvement efforts.

d. Flexibility and Adaptability:

  • Maintain flexibility in adapting to market dynamics. Sustaining innovations provide stability, while the ability to pivot and embrace breakthrough opportunities ensures relevance in a rapidly changing landscape.

e. Customer-Centric Approach:

  • Keep the customer at the center of both types of innovation. Sustaining innovations respond to current customer needs, while breakthrough innovations anticipate and shape future demands.

f. Integration into Workflows:

  • Integrate breakthrough and sustaining innovation into organizational workflows seamlessly. Avoid silos and encourage cross-functional collaboration to leverage the strengths of both types of innovation.

g. Iterative Approach:

  • Adopt an iterative approach to innovation management. Learn from both breakthrough successes and failures, incorporating insights into refining sustaining innovations and informing the next wave of breakthroughs.

As we venture into the future of breakthrough innovation, the landscape is marked by an exciting convergence of cutting-edge technologies and a shift towards collaborative, ethical, and sustainable practices. Artificial intelligence, with its transformative capabilities, is set to be a cornerstone, unlocking unprecedented breakthroughs across diverse sectors. Collaborative open innovation ecosystems are redefining the way breakthroughs are discovered, emphasizing the power of partnerships and diverse expertise.

Sustainability and impact take center stage, with breakthrough solutions aligning closely with environmental goals and societal well-being. Quantum computing and advanced materials promise to revolutionize industries, while human augmentation technologies, blockchain, and biotechnology redefine possibilities in healthcare, human capabilities, and decentralized systems. Immersive technologies, driven by augmented and virtual reality, offer innovative experiences, and the ongoing trend of remote and distributed work fuels breakthroughs in collaboration tools.

As breakthrough innovation propels towards the future, ethical considerations and responsible practices become integral, ensuring that transformative progress aligns with societal values and inclusivity. Embracing these trends positions organizations at the forefront of a dynamic and purpose-driven era of breakthrough innovation, where technology, collaboration, and ethical stewardship converge for positive global impact.

The landscape of breakthrough innovation is ever-evolving. Here are some trends shaping the future of transformative solutions:

  • Collaborative Innovation:
    Collaborative ecosystems are becoming integral, fostering cross-industry partnerships for breakthroughs.
  • Sustainability Innovation:
    The focus on sustainable practices is driving breakthroughs in eco-friendly technologies and business models.
  • Digital Transformation Integration:
    The integration of breakthrough innovation with digital transformation is creating a synergy that amplifies impact.


In conclusion, breakthrough innovation isn’t just a concept; it’s a dynamic force shaping the future of business. As entrepreneurs embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by breakthrough innovation, they pave the way for transformative change, not just within their organizations but across entire industries. By understanding the nuances of breakthrough innovation, entrepreneurs can navigate the delicate balance between risk and reward, ensuring that their ventures remain at the forefront of progress. The examples provided—from Dyson’s household revolutions to the paradigm-shifting business models of Dollar Shave Club—all attest to the power of daring to

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