The search for the next big thing – and what happens when you find it

With the collaboration economy on the rise and technology developing faster than ever before organizations are being forced to continually adapt.

Questions have to be answered, and difficult choices made. How will we (re)organize our internal structure? Is our company culture open enough? How should we manage our resources? And will the risky choices we make result in the survival – or failure – of our business?

According to a recent Forbes Insights survey over 70% of large corporations either had or were planning to create dedicated innovation programs. In addition, some 80% of corporate leaders intended to spend more on innovation for 2015 than they did the previous year. There is an unparalleled acknowledgement that doing things differently is the way forward.

Increasingly what the industry calls innovation doesn’t refer only to technology. It is also about addressing the fundamental (even seismic) shifts in consumer behavior and attention. Technology has changed consumer expectations – what attracts their attention, and where and how they choose to spend their time. It’s a world in which people don’t merely adopt new innovations but drive and lead them as these innovations become the new normal.

Organizations are realizing that technology, long-relegated to a small internal department – and even more importantly, innovation — needs to be embedded throughout the entire organization. Their key technology and innovation leaders need to be market-facing in order to scan what is happening in their markets and be able to take action once they stumble across something of interest they feel should be incorporated in their business.

In companies where innovation has been successfully integrated it has now become everyone’s task to be on the lookout for the next big thing. The process can be daunting, however, and feel a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. As innovation and change accelerate and new initiatives pop up around the globe, the haystack often appears infinite (which, by many definitions, it is). Early movers and experienced organizations which have been at this for a longer period of time have developed methods of technology scouting that rely on strategic thinking and use advanced tools to focus their energy and resources.

Here are some of the learnings on how to use technology scouting effectively:

  • To be effective any technology scouting exercise must be strongly grounded in the requirements of end users. To achieve this, some customer insight work may first be needed to identify unmet needs and the desired benefits of the new technology or product.
  • There is little benefit in embarking on a scouting exercise unless there is a clear strategic intent that is linked to a compelling business case. Although it is tempting to conduct a ‘search and see’, this is far less likely to deliver a successful result.
  • The exercise could easily fail if the search is too broad, as each sub-technology may need its own set of criteria for the scouting to work.
  • There is a real danger that key market imperatives may be lost if the scouting is purely ‘technology driven’, so commercially relevant technologies are more likely to be found if the scouting team comprises a combination of marketing and technical functions from the start.

It all comes down to a diverse, company-wide internal team with dedicated roles, alignment with customer needs and access to tools in order to scan the market for solutions, innovation and technology.

In addition to the need for independent proactive searching there has also been a large increase in open innovation initiatives which companies feel they cannot ignore. From hackathons to startup pitching contests and accelerator programs, the list is endless. Large corporations have been busy bridging the gap between their office walls and those of early stage technology companies by trying to create cultures more open and welcoming to engaging and collaborating with this group. Although this interaction is very positive the stream of information and contacts does take up a large part of their resources and simultaneously creates a serendipity effect.

Let’s consider how many large retail organizations approached meeting customer needs approximately a decade ago (before the meteoric advent of online commerce) and how they address them today. Ten years ago the shopping experience for customers was: physically go to the shops, find something you like, go to a few other shops in the area to compare quality and pricing, then purchase the product you desire from the most appealing shop with the best price.

Today, it works very differently: people might still identify the item they wish to purchase in a shop, or else start by shopping online directly from their homes. Once they find the item they like they will look further online to discover other options and whether they’ve found the best product and price, before they move to the purchase stage.

There are many similarities with how this purchasing revolution has come about and how many organizations act today when it comes to technology scouting. It is the same basic principle: To create new things, one must first know of the existing ones. Technology scouting and intelligence will therefore become THE key activity backing any sound business strategy, and for the management of innovation, technology – and customer relationships.