Something amazing happens when large market forces and high-quality research come together in your product development process — a wave of innovation moves through your company, lifting up and carrying the ripest ideas all the way to market without losing their freshness and vitality.
However, most companies are actually doing the opposite — they are focused on pushing innovation that fits within a pre-existing model out the door. The problem here, is that once a product has been successful within a first core market, other growing market needs tend to go unnoticed. It’s important to remember that once one set of needs is locked onto and served, it’s time to look for the next wave — and one is always forming. Finding this next wave takes intuition, as well as several tools that I describe in the Growth Zone ebook.
Let me give you an example:
When I was a development engineer, I worked on the first synthesized mobile radio that had wide applications in public safety. This product set the stage for benefits like digitally-encrypted security and inter-agency operation that are taken for granted now. The sales force and current customer base didn’t ask specifically for what we built, but careful analysis of the technology streams and customer challenges pointed to the need for a breakthrough product. When we looked into the future it was very clear that the time was ripe.
Instead of pushing and driving innovation from within an organization, you want to become perfectly poised to catch and ride the edges of two waves: the technology capability wave and the market need wave.
Catching a Wave
There are two ways to make sure your organization is ready to catch the waves of innovation: the first is top-down planning, the second is bottom-up planning.
Top-down planning includes things like the macroeconomic climate, demographics and needs in society. In the case of the mobile radio project, what is the context of state and local government — is the tax base growing or shrinking? Can communities get access to capital? What are the demographics and what is the change trend? Relative to the above, are outlying communities getting larger and more sophisticated resources? Is there a need for careful command and control handovers at the boundaries of government jurisdictions? Are our citizens expecting swift and secure responses to public safety needs?
Bottom-up planning is crucial as well. For synthesized radios, technology road maps included efficient microprocessors and memory, radio design tools that allowed tuning across a sufficient range of frequencies, mechanical design that shielded the devices from interference, shock and vibration and much more.
When high-quality information is assembled in one place, challenged and intuitively forged into a point of view — it becomes a true innovation strategy and you are poised to catch the wave. In the case of synthesized mobile radio, the wave was the need for a radio to be frequency-agile enough to be used with one group of users, then, with a flip of a soft switch, be used with another group. Later developments allowed this capability to be a bridge across several user groups, allowing for an unprecedented cooperative communications capability and opening the way for multiple responding agencies to be quickly and virtually aligned when responding to an event. Previous to this, it took literally a table top full of radios to do this type of coordination. This work continues today with work to integrate broadband resources.
Why Waves Matter
Finding the wave is more important now than ever — in fact it’s essential for success. Work that is not anchored in external driving forces is doomed to move at the pace of internal politics.
When an organization catches the wave formation just right, the effects are transformational. Consider the following:
- The need for the US census process drove the development of the punch card and the computer power that was needed to assemble the data, which became the early days of IBM – big data anyone?
- Optical undersea telephony cables laid the pathway for the broadband era and the global economy as we know it.
- The utility sector had not had a technical breakthrough in decades until energy prices and the IT industry converged, yielding smart grid.
Part of my consulting practice is working with teams to assist them in finding these change waves as applied to their particular area and capitalize on them to release innovation in and for their organizations. This, combined with the ability to build a meaningful internal collaboration of senior leaders, is the essence of the change process.
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