Friday, May 13, 2011

We want to invent the next killer app

We want to invent the next iphone

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard this or its equivalent (just insert your industry’s killer app in instead of “iPhone” above).

Because most companies have incremental and next-generation innovation down – it’s the disruptive, non-core, “next big thing” innovation that eludes many and presents the most challenges.

Yet this type of innovation is a necessity for any business that wants to access new markets, create a new line of revenue, or re-invent themselves in anticipation of future directions.

So here’s my question: what happens AFTER you conceive the next iPhone (or killer app for your industry)?

Beyond the frontend

Even though this blog and associated conferences highlight the “frontend” of innovation, the fact is, we cannot ignore the backend of innovation at the beginning of the innovation process! Especially because many companies are front-loaded for bringing in new ideas (e.g., they may have dedicated technology scouts or new business divisions)… but don’t necessarily have the infrastructure, commitment, critical mass, experience, channels, and more to execute on those ideas once they come in.

For example: if you’re a printing company that wants to move into digital, what happens to the sales force, customer support, marketing, and all other business functions that are entirely oriented towards the core business? There’s a paradox here, because on one hand these functions should be focused on the core business in order to be successful – yet this very expertise can be a handicap when faced with the changes resulting from novel innovations.

In other words: you can invent the iPhone, but your business might not be able to successfully absorb it and do anything with it.

And that’s the fundamental tension between incremental and disruptive innovation, which presents a very different set of challenges and risks for all kinds of companies regardless of size. What challenges do you see??

By Tamara St. Claire, Vice President, Global Business Development at PARC, a Xerox company. As Vice President of Global Business Development, Tamara St. Claire is responsible for managing PARC's commercial portfolio and driving both domestic and global strategic partnerships. She joined PARC in 2009 to explore new markets and industry engagements, centralize PARC's business development activities, and align the organizational strategy with a systematic portfolio management process. Dr. St. Claire holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California at Davis, and an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley Haas School of Business.

In my talk at the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston on May 16, I’ll be discussing some of the challenges of managing disruptive innovation – especially for companies figuring out how to enter new markets – and will share some case studies, lessons learned, and a portfolio management framework from PARC, which today is in the business of disruptive innovation for multiple clients…


Bright Innovation said...

One companies say they 'want the next iPhone' I wonder if it's a shortcut. That is, they want a great breakthrough product, but they don't want to have to do the thinking, market exploration and heavy lifting that go with doing something really revolutionary.

They don't want to create something new. They want to create someone else's idea of something new.

They are short circuiting the process of studying, thinking and testing new ideas that leads to something revolutionary.

David said...

Building on the shortcut Bright Innovation mentioned, I feel execs who talk like that are speaking from a "results driven bias".

The don't want the iPhone, they want products that bring in huge amounts of money for the firm, they want the market impact of a throught leader, they want the reputation of the guy at helm when their product changed everything. But what they don't say is what they are willing to do to get that.

High level execs get used to calling the shots and having others execute on what they say, which is fine once again for incremental innovations. Which should I do boss? The 6 on this hand or the half a dozen on the other?

But when Execs start to talk beyond incremental innovations they seem to forget all of the investment required to make significant changes in a product line or the behavior of a market.

Making a comment like I want to make the next "iPhone" in our industry is like seeing Michael Phelps win 8 gold medals in the olympics and saying "I want us to be the next gold medal leader".

That's fine IF you are willing to train for the years Phelps did, make the sacrifices he did, take advantage of all the lucky opportunities he got, stick with the singularity of purpose and passion he has, invest in the cost of some of the best trainers in the world, have some natural born tallent, AND happen to compete in an olympics where the competition is such that it allows you to win.

I'd like these execs to remember that when you say "I want to make the next iPhone", you also need to say "And I'm willing to create things like the Newton and 5 generations of iPods before it."

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