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April 22, 2013

Sidestepping Pitfalls in the Search for Technology Innovation

Posted by Simon Towers (View Profile | View All Posts) at 1:49 PM

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A very successful private equity investor once shared with delegates of a packed conference that he spends more time on the road than he does in his office. The reason, he said, is that he wants to see firsthand the types of companies in which his firm is considering investing. Not only that, but he would go to exotic lands during theworst times (weather-wise) of the year. Monsoons would hit the coasts, earthquakes would shake cities, and snowstorms would cripple roads and airports. It wasn't a fun task, he said, but it allowed him to see how the land's commercial enterprises faced challenging situations. Being a private equity investor is about identifying growth where others can't. The globetrotting on the part of this particular financier was just one of his tactics to identify which foreign companies had systems and processes in place to deal with unexpected events.

Those of us in the technology world are no different. We're always trying to sidestep pitfalls as part of the process of identifying opportunities to innovate.

In fact, we all can experience bumps in the road on our respective innovation journeys. Take, for instance, the consultant in the pharmaceutical space who is working with a large corporate client. They have partnered to streamline a certain research and development process and then an unexpected regulation comes into effect. That regulation can stop the entire R&D process dead in its tracks. Maybe that team had a hunch that the regulatory environment would be in flux. So they staged trials in numerous countries so that by spreading the work out they wouldn't let one set of rules hamper what was a long and important project.

Sometimes pitfalls occur because the technology is such that only certain types of innovators can see the bigger picture. The late Steve Jobs was known for recognizing a trend or a device that he knew would hit it big someday. Sometimes the problem was that the device was too ahead of its time. Think of the Newton. It wasn't a big seller when it debuted some two decades ago, but today, everyone relies on smart tablets and telephones.

Then there's the management pitfall. Some of the best technology companies got their starts by people who were barely out of their teens. Guys like Hewlett and Packard and Gates tinkered with computers in their parents' garages. Now it's one thing to build an innovative device; it's quite another to know how to manufacture, distribute, market, and sell it. And set up a corporation with the proper structure to handle the finances involved in all of these operations. That's why certain young techies look to older, seasoned Wall Street types to take their companies to the next level.

Another technology pitfall is what I like to call the one-hit wonder. How many times has an inventor come out with a piece of software or hardware that wows the industry, only to fade back into obscurity? Knowing who is capable of a repeat performance when it comes to innovation is vital to any investor or consumer. At Infosys we like to remind our partners that it's difficult to get onto the Fortune 500 list. But it's even more difficult to remain there year after year. Sustaining a culture of innovation takes hard work and talent.

Finally, there's a pitfall that can be especially tough on innovators when they know in their gut that they have what it takes to change the world. And that pitfall is the environment. No, I'm not talking about Mother Nature. I'm talking about the interpersonal environment of an innovator. Does she have the right people around her who enjoy brainstorming sessions? Can they view a particular industry or sector in a way that she can - or can't? Are outdated, process-oriented colleagues holding her back? Maybe she needs to break out and form a new team. That new environment might be free of pitfalls on her innovation journey.

In the quest to innovate, you're always going to hit roadblocks. Pitfalls are everywhere. But we can learn to identify and avoid them. Or maybe even face them head on and learn from them. Whichever the case, nobody said an innovator's job was going to be easy.

Comments

Absolutely right. One another roadblock innovators might face is financial. The amount that could be invested on taking-up a new technology in any organization may be highly limited and based on complex ROI calculations.

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