Innovation that succeeds by exploiting the past creatively24 November, 2014 / Articles
If you have ever attended an innovation conference, you will be familiar with consultants’ graphs that show how, say, the second half of the 21st century will belong to African millennials relentlessly networking via wearable mobile devices. But what has struck me recently is not so much the extraordinary potential of the future, but the extent to which innovators draw on ingredients from the present and the past.
Novelty is virtually the only common element in many definitions of innovation. But any corporate leader who assumes these products or processes must be conjured from scratch will condemn his innovation department to futile hours in the lab.
Gambling that a rare flash of genius will generate a brand new, commercially viable idea is expensive and time-consuming. Google’s Larry Page is confident enough about his start-ups to refer to them as “zero-billion-dollar-companies”, the implication being that they have billion dollar potential. But even he has had to focus on a few such projects, from the driverless car to smart contact lenses.
True innovators’ eureka moments are more likely to spring from the realisation that the elements they need to create a new and marketable product or service already exist – just not yet in a form that most people want or are able to use.
Shai Reshef, who built his University of the People to offer affordable online qualifications to anyone, described it in this way at last week’s FT Innovate conference in London: “I realised that everything that made higher education so expensive was already available – and for free.”
The assumption that the components of successful innovation are “already available” should be liberating for companies.
Open-mindedness about where those components can be found will lead companies to different places – beyond known innovation hotspots. For example, a survey prepared for Johnston Press , the regional media group, identified Greater Manchester and Merseyside as the UK regions with the best combination of elements for innovation outside London.