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Balancing the Risks and Rewards of Adopting an Innovation

(December/January 2017) posted on Tue Dec 19, 2017

When is the right time to buy into a truly disruptive technology – one with the potential to transform your business? Understanding the process of innovation will help you assess the opportunity as well as your readiness to take the plunge.

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By Mark A. Coudray

In our special Innovation Issue, we present a collection of expert essays on an important technology in the industry today. In his special edition introduction, Mark Coudray discusses the process of innovation.

Innovation is racing ahead at a maddening rate. It’s a challenge to know if a new technology is mature enough to purchase and actually reap the benefits preached by the salespeople. I’ve always been on the bleeding edge of technology and have been burned more times than I’d like to admit. (I once had a drum scanner that almost became my $250,000 doorstop.) Each new technology that emerges is great in theory, but as they say, the devil is in the details.

It occurred to me that it would be helpful to provide some perspective about innovation so you can make decisions about new technology with more confidence. It turns out businesses have been struggling with this issue for more than 300 years.

The problem began to gain momentum with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, when the economy made a major shift from agrarian to industrial mechanization. The printing industry was right in the middle of this as presses evolved from hand-driven to mechanized. This shift is being repeated again as we move from an analog economy to a digital one. The only difference: Today’s transition is happening exponentially faster.

The Challenge
Here’s what we’re facing: Innovation is happening at a continuous rate. Products are now developed using the Agile Model, a concept that came from the software industry that describes a product being coded up to and after its release. The production process starts before the final product is even completely designed, which is something everyone needs to realize when making tech acquisition decisions, as we’ll see.

Design iteration is happening as the market develops and as buyers respond to the initial marketing of the new technology. Some of the ideas are so new and different that there’s nothing to compare them to. This makes it extremely difficult to decide whether or not to adopt them.

Two good examples are the iPhone and the iPad. Both of these products changed the behavior of the user and enabled a wide array of new apps, activities, and uses. Before these devices, consumers were perfectly happy with the “dumb” phones and laptops they were using.


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