Understanding the true shape of the innovation curve
Smart companies know the optimal time to jump into new areas of innovation, says Vito Di Bari — “when nothing appears to be happening.”
Most major technology innovations hit the headlines decades before they can actually be exploited. As a result, companies struggle to understand how such changes — the world wide web, mobile apps, the Internet of Things, Big Data and so on — will impact of their industry, and when they need to invest to safeguard their prosperity.
According to innovation designer Vito Di Bari, that is because few people appreciate the true shape of the technology innovation curve. “The world is made up of two kinds of experts on how innovation evolves,” he maintains. “There are those who say that the curve of innovation is a linear flow and others who suggest it goes by big steps. I personally believe the pace of innovation is more of a paso doble: one step, one pause, one step,” he argues.
“When a significant innovation first shows up, its potential is widely talked about, with all the usual hype and buzz,” he says, “but then there is a period of immobility when nothing seems to happen.”
And there are some good reasons for such a pause. At that initial point of sighting of a new technology, getting involved might simply cost too much or progress might be held back by some small, but apparently fundamental, aspect of the new technology that will take several years solve, he outlines. “As a result, the innovation seems to go into a state of hibernation — or at least its progress is camouflaged. But then, all of a sudden, it awakens and there is as avalanche of activity” — a wealth of new opportunity and creativity as new industries and companies are born and old ones are disrupted. He cites the four-decade long pause between the invention of mobile telephony and its mass-market exploitation.
“So the true flow of innovation is that there is always a pause between the moment where we find out what’s new and the moment when it is ready for adoption,” he says. But that pause is a time for action.
Competitive turning point
“My opinion is that the space between the dawn of an innovation and the realization of its potential is where real competitive advantage is made. So if you are a smart company you don’t work [to exploit] an innovation when it first turns up; you don’t work on it when it’s out there and accepted. You work on an innovation when nothing is seemingly happening because this is the right moment to acquire major competitive edge.”
He highlights the Internet of Things as a topical example. “With the Internet of Things we are already coming towards the end of this pause; we are a moment before the jump, the big pulse of this innovation. So I think that this is the last call for companies to invest and take advantage of it.”
• Vito Di Bari was a keynote speaker on the Fujitsu World Tour 2014