Innovation

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Developing New Products in Emerging Markets

How can multinational companies turn ideas from their emerging-market subsidiaries into global products? A successful innovation developed by Cisco’s R&D unit in India offers practical insights into how to make that process work effectively. Key enablers in the Cisco case included well-developed R&D capabilities at a company center in Bangalore, a large market opportunity, and the support of executive champions. The process also demanded clarity about what product to develop, and how — including working on a shoestring budget.

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Why Learning Is Central to Sustained Innovation

Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products. So-called “lean” organizations invest heavily and continuously in the skills of product developers, and rather than developing single products, they think in terms of streams of products. By making people the backbone of the product development system, companies can achieve a triple win: increased innovation, faster time to market, and lower costs.

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Learning the Art of Business Improvisation

The ability to innovate and rapidly respond to changes in the business environment is critical to competitiveness and success. Improvisation and experimentation combined with focus and flexibility are needed to identify new business opportunities and effectively execute projects. But while improvisation may seem to be spontaneous, managers can foster it through the deliberate development of certain processes and capabilities in an organization’s culture, team structure, and management practices.

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How Crowdfunding Influences Innovation

Crowdfunding is changing how entrepreneurs bring new products to market. It has allowed thousands of innovating entrepreneurs to raise money, build brand awareness, and join a broader conversation with large numbers of potential backers — all while still in the product development process. But crowdfunding’s potential goes beyond financing and marketing. The people who back projects can also be important sources for product feedback and ideas.

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Debating Disruptive Innovation

Few MIT Sloan Management Review articles garner as much attention as Andrew A. King and Baljir Baatartogtokh’s “How Useful Is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation?” After surveying 79 industry experts, King and Baatartogtokh concluded that many of the cases cited as examples of disruptive innovation by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen and his coauthor Michael E. Raynor did not fit four of the theory’s key elements well. Here, three experts provide responses to continue the conversation.

“How Useful Is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation?” was the question raised by an article in the fall 2015 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. In this issue, several more experts weigh in on the topic.

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Keep Calm and Manage Disruption

Disruption can be averted, and many businesses manage through it by beating the new competition, joining them, or waiting them out. “To be sure, facing disruption is no picnic,” writes Joshua S. Gans, author of The Disruption Dilemma. “But it also isn’t the existential threat that so many see it as.” Many businesses are finding ways to weaken disruptive events, sometimes by investing aggressively in the new innovation after entrants had brought it to market or by acquiring the entrants and the actual disruption.

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Will the Internet of Trees Be the Next Game Changer?

  • Interview
  • Read Time: 9 min 

Unlike agriculture, where cutting-edge technologies are being aggressively adopted, forestry and its related industries are something of a technology laggard. But the prospect of the industry using sensors in the field, both in sawmills and even embedded within trees themselves, is emerging. Eric Hansen and Scott Leavengood, both professors at Oregon State University’s Wood Science and Engineering department, discuss how the Internet of Things could help drive efficiency and improve quality in the forestry sector.

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Free Webinar: Leveraging Smart Data for Mass Customization

Research shows that applying smart data and the principles of mass customization to transportation ecosystems is launching new business models — and fundamentally changing the way we travel. In this webinar, customization experts Wolfgang Gruel and Frank Piller expand on their research into how to create integrated smart data ecosystems that cross corporate boundaries. They also detail real-life mass customization lessons that can be applied to any industry.

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Lessons From Hollywood: A New Approach To Funding R&D

Could science-based industries benefit from a financing model similar to one used to make Hollywood movies? “We propose that a form of governance centered on the project rather than the company may be a more efficient way to organize innovation in science-based industries,” write the authors. Their proposal addresses the fact that traditional venture capital “wasn’t designed to deal with the costs, risks, and slow payout of science-based industries.”

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A New Vision for Personal Transportation

Smart data and mass customization have the potential to radically change the way trips are planned. Already, the Boston-based startup Bridj is piloting a dynamic bus system that optimizes routing in response to demand, while Düsseldorf Airport is piloting a robotic parking system in which users just drop off their cars, which are then parked automatically. In the future, intermodal routing could provide customers with a seamless experience and reshape the transportation infrastructure.

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When Customers Become Fans

Beijing-based smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc. has actively involved enthusiastic customers — known as “Mi Fans” — in both software and hardware development processes. Tech-savvy users test interfaces and products as volunteers, doing much of their communication on the Internet. Customer involvement in the product development life cycle has not only helped Xiaomi reduce R&D costs but also enabled the company to cultivate a sense of participation and pride among lead users.

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Viewing Data as a Liquid Asset

Most people recognize their data as an asset — yet few regard it as a liquid asset. But a chance meeting opened up an opportunity for using data assets in a different way to support R&D — and uncovered a whole new path for financing of science and tech research. SVB Analytics head Steve Allan explains how using analytics “allows us to ask if we need to look at the data a different way.”

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How to Avoid Platform Traps

Many of today’s most successful technology businesses— including Apple, Facebook, and Uber — are built on a platform-based business model. But the increasing popularity of platform strategies masks a difficult truth: Such strategies are hard to execute well, and they are prone to several common pitfalls. Those platform traps include growth with no strategic focus, pursuing an intermediate approach between the mass market and a niche, and overlooking the value proposition of partners.

Image courtesy of Flickr user A. Strakey.

How Useful Is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation?

Clayton M. Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation has been very influential. But how well does the theory describe what happens in business? The authors of this article surveyed industry experts for each of 77 case examples of disruptive innovation found in two of Christensen’s seminal books. The results suggest that many of the cases do not correspond closely with four elements of the theory of disruptive innovation — and the theory may not fit as many situations as is often assumed.

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What to Know About Locating in a Cluster

A study of two industry clusters in Denmark shows that the factors that can make clusters attractive — easy people movement and knowledge spillovers — can also make it harder for individual companies to retain proprietary knowledge. The authors present two case studies that present starkly different experiences. They conclude, in part, that clusters with core platform strengths that span noncompeting sectors are exceptionally attractive and that healthy clusters have core institutions with scale and scope in relevant fields.

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The Art of Managing Complex Collaborations

The only way to move forward on society’s biggest challenges may be through consortiums. But it’s not easy to assemble such groups or to keep them together. The experiences of The Biomarkers Consortium, a nine-year-old public-private partnership in the health industry, presents five lessons in managing these kinds of complex collaborations. These lessons are useful for anyone trying to build consensus to address broad societal challenges among multiple stakeholders with both common and divergent interests.

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How is Digitization Affecting Your Business?

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 2 min 

How much of a threat does digital disruption present to your business? A short online questionnaire from Peter Weill and Stephanie L. Woerner, both of MIT Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research, helps assess digital risk. “Although sweeping technology-enabled change often takes longer than we expect, history shows that the impact of such change can be greater than we ever imagined,” they write. “Think steam engines, cars, airplanes, TVs, telephones and, most recently, mobile phones and e-books.”

Image of Elon Musk courtesy of Flickr user Maurizio Pesce

How Do Innovators Spot Market Opportunities?

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 2 min 

Executives need the ability to quickly spot both new opportunities and hidden risks. Asking the right questions can broaden perspective and shake up existing assumptions. For instance, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, has a noted ability to spot unmet market needs. Musk has said that his forward-thinking style, exemplified in his vision of commercializing electric vehicles for the mass market, comes from “just trying really hard — the first order of business is to try. You must try until your brain hurts.”

Image courtesy of Flickr user Yuichi Sakuraba. https://www.flickr.com/photos/skrb/4376216155

Embracing Digital Technologies in Traditional Worlds

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 3 min 

Business that are succeeding in the digital world are questioning key managerial assumptions. Case in point: PagesJaunes, the French Yellow Pages company. It “realized a few years ago that selling ads in thick, yellow print directories would not remain viable for long in an age of Google and Yelp.” To embrace digital opportunities, the company questioned assumptions about what is valuable about it strategic assets. It shifted its business model to online advertising and helping its small business customers build their own digital capabilities.

Image courtesy of Mediatek

Developing Effective Intellectual Property Partnerships

All too often, companies from emerging and established economies talk past each other when discussing intellectual property. The result is that often fail to consider all their options for a productive collaboration. The authors detail five ways that companies can structure such IP partnerships, and say that it’s important for a company to choose the one that’s the best fit for the project: “The choice of IP business models is a strategic decision, not merely a legal matter.”

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