Turning innovative possibilities into concrete businesses

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The MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual experiences of innovation in the lead up to our Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making. Here Michael Johnston investigates cultural contexts as a way to be more critical, and in turn, innovative.

In 2008 I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Buxton, head of design research for Microsoft and a generally interesting character. He said one thing that stuck with me: ‘If you want to know what is going to make an impact in 10 years time then look back at what was invented 10 years ago’. This is the basis of Buxton’s Long Nose of innovation, which recognises that technological advancement is much faster than (20 years ahead of) the demands of the mainstream audience.  This can be seen in the 160,000 patents that were filed in the US in 2011, of which only 1600 were launched into the market. What happened to the other 99 per cent? Academic Theodore Levitt believes that innovation needs a more concrete approach beyond coming up with the possibilities technology offers.  The question then becomes how to turn possibilities into more concrete probabilities that gain traction in the market.


This was the basis of my research into the area of disruptive innovation. If the innovation has already been created then what needs to happen to gain market traction? Business strategist and author Clayden Christensen claimed that the success of disruptive innovation was a marketing problem not a technological one. I explored further by working in a start-up that created a business around a disruptive innovation. The insights I extracted were important not just for marketing, but also for driving overall market traction.


Steve Blank, the godfather of lean startup, believed the failure of any business was not due to a lack of great products but a lack of customers and proven business models. The importance of gaining market traction for any innovation was the basis for turning technological possibilities into market probabilities. Market traction is gained by understanding customers and their problems, and iterating potential products into solutions, rather than simply creating a product or service because an organisation can. In order to accomplish this, organisations must move from the technical R&D labs of the past towards interaction with customers or creation of customer R&D in real life scenarios.


The approach is simple, make things and get them in front of customers for quick feedback to turn a mere product or service into a solution that addresses a real need for a new customer segment.  Because what is the point of a bunch of innovations sitting in a lab if no one will buy them?


To learn more about disruptive innovation and Mike’s research please join us at the upcoming MA Innovation Management Degree Show Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making from 18-22 June.