Monday, January 23, 2006

Innovating Alone

I read an interesting document by Egils Milbergs who writes the Accelerating Innovation blog. He and another collaborator wrote an article on innovation metrics, it's available on his website. I agree with a lot of what he writes about, especially the need to change our innovation metrics - or even just create some metrics around innovation and start capturing them. But what really intrigued me was his assertion that you can't innovate alone.

To quote directly "A striking feature of contemporary innovation is that hardly any organization can innovate alone. Most innovations involve a multitude of organizations. This is especially the case for the most knowledge-intensive, complex technologies. " Let's think about that.

Basically, Milbergs is building the case that the day of the individual innovator is dead. Too many different technologies and capabilities are required to create truly new products and services. No one person can build all the circuits of a new MP3 player, for instance, and even if he or she could, distribution, marketing and many other facets are too difficult for one company. Let's put the lie to even Edison's innovations. Edison never worked alone, but surrounded by a large staff of technicians, draftsmen and others who came from different industries. Edison had numerous contacts across different industries as well, and personally knew the capitalists who funded much of his research.

If individuals can't innovate alone, can corporations? Can one corporation create new innovations all by itself? I think here the answer is a little different - it depends on the innovation we are talking about. In the case of new products, it is still difficult to innovate by oneself unless the products can be designed, manufactured, tested and distributed by one firm. It's hard to create new products without involving other firms. In fact, P&G and 3M are constantly bringing other firms and innovators into the product development process. Conversely, a service oriented innovation can be created by one firm. Firms that provide services or differentiate on services can create a service innovation or a business model that does not rely on others for success.

However, longer term, we've got to innovate in the open. The network effect has an impact on innovation - the value of the new product or service - and the availability of the innovation - how quickly it is adopted. This means that firms using open innovation styles and working across the customer-business partner barrier are more likely to succeed.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:15 PM

35 Comments:

Anonymous Brian H. Barron said...

AN INTERESTING RATIO
Reader post by: Brian Barron
Posted on: November 15, 2005, 6:43 AM PST
Story: Are U.S. innovators losing their competitive edge?
If you divide the total number of U.S patents ever granted (about seven million now) by the total number of inductees to the National Inventors Hall of Fame to date (about 250) you find that about one of ever 28,000 patents is a "breakthrough" or patent of major significance.

I agree with Nathan Myhrvold that the playing field for innovator/inventors has been dramatically improved with the advent of the internet and search engines. So today the secret of success in innovation/invention is to ask the right question(s), to paraphrase the sagacious British chemist, Sir Henry Tizard.

Tizard went on to say, "it is the choice of problem, more than anything else, that marks the (person) of genius in the scientific world".

It will probably always be so.........thus our standard of living and our global prosperity will rest in the hands, and minds, of the few who dare to dream (effectively) and do something about it.

Brian H. Barron
Founder & CEO
General Innovation, inc.
Seattle, WA 98107-2932
"innovation is the only
sustainable competitive advantage"

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