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The Innovation Cycle: Where Are We?

(December 2009) posted on Tue Nov 24, 2009

Invention extension? Functional substitution? Find out what these concepts mean and how they apply to the screen-printing industry.

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By Mark A. Coudray

In the past I really looked forward to SGIA. It was the biggest show of the year—the place where all the latest technology was unveiled. It also hosted the best printing-awards program in the industry. There was always plenty of buzz and it was generally four days of nonstop go-go-go.

Now the show is still big, but not quite as big as in days gone by. I think the economy and changes in the industry, as well as changes with trade shows in general, have taken a toll. People don’t like to travel. It’s expensive and a big hassle anymore. Manufacturers, especially the equipment companies, face a huge expense to get the production machines onto the exhibit floor for just a few days of exposure.

The biggest change has been in the complexion of the show. Ten years ago there was a smattering of inkjet companies. Companies with a long history in screen printing dominated the industry. That’s all changed now. Huge companies like HP, EFI, Agfa, and the like now take up more of the floor space, and we see $1-million-plus inkjet printers in the high end of the market. It’s a different game now—and that got me to thinking.

Any business, technology, political ideology, society, or culture goes through four distinct phases. They are: invention, invention extension, functional substitution, and devention. These ideas were proposed by Geoffrey Moore in his book, Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers. This model is used mostly with product lifecycle, but it applies equality to all the other areas above. As we move from one phase to the next, there are distinct challenges and characteristics. Let’s take a few minutes to outline what these phases mean before we apply them to what we’re seeing in our industry.

This marks the introduction of the technology or idea. Invention is true innovation—something new and unseen. It is usually met with ridicule and mockery. The rare exception is when it’s such a brilliant idea that everyone gets it right away. True ideas are greeted as crackpot notions that will never fly because they are almost always disruptive to the existing status quo. Think of the telephone, automobile, airplane, and so on.


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