Create a Technology Growth Strategy That Wins

preliminary design review

A recent article by Professor Karan Girotra at INSEAD University discusses 4 myths to a technology growth strategy.  The entire article is a great read, but Myth 1 “It’s about a BIG idea” caught my attention.

Having spent my career in the technology and engineering fields, I’ve seen several different approaches to technology growth.  In some instances, the growth strategy could be described as wild, in which the business’s goal was to repeatedly find disruptive technologies that gave them the edge. In others, the business and associated technology strategy was slow, and generally reacted the customer needs when they became real.  Essentially, there was no innovation.

According to Girotra, “Companies and individuals thinking about innovation need to encourage a pool of ideas and adopt a systematic selection and refinement process; a funnel approach converging the multitude of ideas down to a handful of projects that can be pushed to rapid completion.”

To me this describes perfectly the more successful technology growth strategies I’ve seen.  By treating the mouth of the funnel as a means of catching day to day customer needs and combining with new and wild ideas, you enable your firm to identify market trends and future needs.  The funnel approach also encourages the sharing and compounding of ideas.

This strategy is supported by Kenichi Ohmae in Borderless World, in which he suggests that businesses should not commit to single ideas, but should instead pursue several channels at the same time to bring about the best products for customers.  While investing in a single idea and tabling others can result in big reward, this occurrence is in the minority.

Further, the big idea approach does not position a firm well for market changes that make the one idea obsolete before it is fully mature.  Having a funnel of ideas in work allows the business to quickly alter directions or to have a head start when the market changes.  Many businesses continuously invest in ideas that just don’t work.  The funnel approach facilitates the termination of these projects, and allows the firm to divert attention to other items.  Ohmae points out, though, that a larger funnel-like strategy does consume more resources, which are increasingly thin in today’s business environment.

In my own view, a firm’s technology strategy and planning should resemble the fishing industry.  With a single line in the water, you can minimize the consumption of resources and catch that giant fish that will feed you for a long time.  By the time you get the hook in the water, though, your single line may have missed the school that swam by and you can come up without a bite.  In contrast, by casting a wide net as with commercial fishing styles, you are more likely to have a good catch, even if it was something you didn’t expect.  In technology growth, by casting a wide net, you get to see what things come in rather than hope for a big bite.

In summary, a funnel filling approach encourages idea generation within a firm which can be combined to create better ideas.  This approach – promoting and exploring several ideas at once – does consume more resources but this investment helps the business pursue multiple product options for a continually changing market.  I am left with a conversation I had with a technology executive recently in which he asked me “what is 2 + 2?” I knew it was a trick so I gave him a funny answer.  After a laugh, he answered “2 + 2 is 5.  It’s not your idea or my idea, but our idea. Combining individual ideas gives you better ideas.”

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