The innovation race has not always been about innovation. In today’s world, offering an existing product is no longer enough to gain a foothold in a market. On the other hand, until a few years ago, offering locally what was already available elsewhere was viable. It could meet a demand. Now, thanks to globalization, it is increasingly difficult to fill a gap when we can trade with the rest of the planet.

It is in this context that companies have tried to distinguish themselves through their innovations. Rather than meeting a need, the idea is to create it. It is necessary to make significant changes in relation to what already exists in order to stand out.

We can cite a few examples of companies that were able to create a need by innovating, such as Steve Jobs with the iPhone, or Blablacar with the democratization of carpooling. Before its existence, alternatives to the train were rare and often much more expensive. Blablacar was able to offer a service that did not exist until then. Without talking about money, 25 million travelers per quarter pass through their site.

The race for innovation, not just success stories

The race to innovate is synonymous with disruption. However, consumers like their habits and mentalities are difficult to change. This is called resistance to change. It is therefore common that new projects do not immediately generate much interest. Let’s talk about an example that younger people will discover.

In 1978 the Laser Disc was launched to compete with VHS. It is a disc with a diameter about the same as the 33 rpm which contains a film. It is the first optical support. With the possibility of putting chapters on it and its much higher quality, it had everything to replace the famous video tape. This was not enough, quality is not everything. The ability to record on VHS was a big plus that the consumer was used to. The time available on Laser Discs was only 1 hour maximum per side, unlike video K7s which could easily exceed 4 hours. At the beginning, the press was optimistic. It was announced as the ideal medium for movie lovers. Finally, it lived for about ten years before disappearing into oblivion. But what conclusion can be drawn from this failure?

Success or failure? It is all a question of taking a step back.

First of all, it is not really a failure. It was the first step of the optical reader technology. Like all innovations, it followed the “hype cycle”. Let’s take a closer look!

The hype cycle can be broken down into 5 phases. The consulting firm Gartner drew the curve in 1995.

When a technology is launched, enthusiasm often takes off quickly. This is the case with our optical drive. In its early days, it was acclaimed by many consumers and professionals alike with the Laser Disc. It was the peak of exaggerated expectations. The media got hold of the subject, and expressed immense expectations. Companies were created and all launched themselves in this innovation race. We all remember the expectations around 3D printers at their beginning.

Once the euphoria subsided, we entered the phase of disillusionment. It is the end of the Laser Disc, the optical reading will not work. The technology has a lot of trouble selling itself and does not fully satisfy the customers. The brands stop manufacturing the product as it is and we reach the bottom of the abyss. And that’s when the technology that nobody expects anymore, and that seems to disappoint everybody, can bounce back.

It is the entry into the slope of enlightenment. The manufacturers look at the possible improvements from the mistakes made in the past. This is the birth of more successful and reliable products. To remain in the optical reading, it is only 4 years after that will leave the CD such as we knew it. A revolutionary innovation for all audiophiles and audio entertainment professionals.

Finally, the plateau of productivity. It is generally at this stage of the hype cycle that companies will make their innovation race profitable. This is the democratization of technology. It’s accessible, reliable and anyone can use it.

How to identify future projects?

Innovative technologies follow this curve… in general. Some, in the worst case, will never recover from the abyss of disillusionment. Google Glass comes to mind. Although they have been much talked about, there has never been a real craze for this technology. It remained at the stage of anecdote.

The first rule of recognizing which innovations are the future of the world is to know this curve. You can then place the technology in question on it and see if it fits the pattern. The second thing is to keep in mind. Just because everyone is talking about a new process doesn’t mean it will work. This is the very demonstration of the hype cycle.

In this race for innovation, not all of them advance at the same speed. Some are faster than others to move forward. You will notice that there is no time scale on the curve. Some technologies can be technically outdated before they reach the productivity plateau. These technologies quickly fall into oblivion, such as the DVD camcorder, which soon after its release was overtaken by its memory card competitors. Another tip is to follow other innovative products that could be developed more quickly.

To conclude this innovation race

In any case, only patience will show us the innovations that stand out. Common sense remains our best friend. We must also keep in mind that we can impact the ranking of the innovation race. Indeed, the actors of the projects are driving their development, but the interested parties and investors are also important. Let’s take the example of the IOT (Internet Of Things). They are the talk of the town at the moment, and allow to connect many things. Nobody will be surprised today to see a connected refrigerator. The real added value is not yet obvious. However, the utilities of IOT are developing, especially in the industry where the gains are real. Data collection is still often done with paper and pencil. This leads to average reliability, as well as time-consuming tasks. This is the slope of enlightenment.

Keep it in mind, if you want an innovation to break through, support it however you can. If you position yourself as a customer, buy it. If you position yourself as an interested party, talk about it. And if you can, invest!

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