design: impulsant
Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Re-innovation

A good friend of mine collects old Wired mag's, not for the fun of it, but because he scans them for old idea's that are still valid but never made it due to various reasons: to early, not executed well enough, bad marketing, the .com bust etc.

Most of us lack the ability to recognize a promising innovator or idea. Typically, we're seers only in hindsight, lamenting how we knew eight years ago that Google would revolutionize search and forgetting how we dismissed successful product introductions. Academics and analysts have some ideas about what works best;

Admit that most things fail: This is not a bad thing. Not even a surprising thing. It is just the way the world operates. And those who do not realize this are more doomed to failure than those who do.

That's the observation of Paul Ormerod, author Why Most Things Fail, and an advocate of continuous, aggressive innovation. In the history of industry most businesses eventually fail, even market leaders. Although they don't fall apart for the same reasons, certain patterns of behavior contribute to the likelihood of failure.

"What you should be looking for is not the amount of money they're spending on research and development themselves, but a company's willingness to be flexible and to adapt to what other people are doing well,"

Specialize, specialize, specialize: Sir Isaac Newton once famously wrote, by way of explaining his extraordinary legacy of discoveries, that "If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."

"If one is to stand on the shoulders of giants, one must first climb up their backs, and the greater the body of knowledge, the harder this climb becomes," writes Benjamin Jones, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, in a paper that addresses the complexities of innovation. (.pdf)

Jones' analysis adresses two changes in the way people and institutions pursue innovation.

The first is a trend toward specialization. In order to improve existing technologies, researchers must either pursue an increasingly extensive education or narrow their field of expertise.

Jones also envisions a trend toward teamwork gaining momentum, as companies need more people to complete projects.

"Whenever researchers look at innovation, they see this upward trend in collaboration," he said. "People are becoming more specialized over time and they need to work in bigger teams."

That's the view of Eric von Hippel, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management, who says technologies can be developed in such a way that innovations are easier to make. The basic idea is to break complex systems into simpler "modules." A product can be improved upon by focusing not on the whole, but on a small part.

"Existing technology gets gradually shaped into large user-friendly chunks that you don't need to know the insides of to use," he said. "You can work with an operating system without knowing everything about how it works. And you can modify a car without necessarily understanding how the engine works."

As for corporate R&D, von Hippel says companies are finding that more and more innovation is coming not from in-house developers, but from products users who do their own re-engineering.

"People are innovating for themselves," he said. "That's what has happened and economists are really puzzled about it because economists are focused on this IP-based system."

Look at mash-ups for google maps, pimp my ride/house/pc etc etc, the people take over! Be your own innovator!

What all these analysts above are missing is that most of true product innovation is that new concepts, product ideas and enhancements are born out of frustration with the current product or lack of a solution to a particular problem in the market.

I never believed in R&D depts as the biggest innovators.. no siree, the one-man-bands that stumble upon something, or over something.. for the 1000st time and then decide to finaly do something about it.. those are the innovators and mostly by chance.

1 Comments:

  • I agree with you Jan.When you say “Most of us lack the ability to recognize a promising innovator or idea”. Exactly, that´s why the sigmoid line works so well. We cannot see into the future but we may do some forecasting to figure it out where are we standing in the product-life curve...are we in the introduction? Is it a climbing coming? Some of the basic tools an entrepreneur has is the Business Plan: I don't care if it tells me how much value or how much money the product or service promises...but it shows –a little or a lot- data about “the context” where this new service is positioning. When innovation comes...it is difficult for us to “recognize the promising idea” because the more innovative the more data we are lacking of. Also, when you say “Academics and analysts have some ideas about what works best”. That´s right, and at the same time they live in the status quo environment. It is a paradox. “It is just the way the world operates”. Exactly, we live surrounded by a culture, we live it, we maintain it. Innovation is because Status quo operates. World cannot live without both.

    By Anonymous Daniel Alvarado, at 7:41 pm  

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