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The Long Nose of Innovation

| On 03, Jan 2008

James Todhunter

A very insightful article appears in BusinessWeek online titled “The Long Nose of Innovation.”  Written by Bill Buxton of Microsoft, the article discuss the fact that great innovations don’t just happen, but rather they are the consequence of many events leading up to the eventual introduction of the high-value manifestation of the concept.


Bill cites the examples of the mouse and RISC technology to show how the time between invention and successful delivery of an innovation maybe many years (thirty in the cases cited).  These are good examples and of course they are far from unique.  History teaches us that there are very discernable and predictable patterns of evolution that inventions follow as they mature.  One doesn’t have to look far to see the evidence of this in the many things we take for granted everyday such as electric light, digital photography, and so many other things.


Consider the lowly ballpoint pen…  The John Laud patented designs for a ballpoint type pen in 1888.  However, the state of ink making was not well enough advanced to allow his device to be practical.  It wasn’t until nearly 50 years later when the Brio brothers developed new designs and new ink formulations that the ballpoint pen took its next big step forward toward viability.


Invention is not enough.  Innovation is the process of deriving value from invention.  Where invention, application, and support systems intersect is where value, and hence innovation, is found.  This is the clear message of history that is played out time and time again in the present.


Bill closes his article with a particularly interesting observation.  He states, “To my mind, at least, those who can shorten the nose by 10% to 20% make at least as great a contribution as those who had the initial idea.”  Here, Bill has given some very good direction for innovators.


There is a predictable and visible future.  The elements that make up this future exist today.  The ability to see that predictable future and understand the path from immature technology to successful product is a high value component of sustainable innovation practice.  This ability is something that the average innovation practitioner is capable of developing through a combination of the right technical infrastructure aggregate a view into the current state of a technology and the application of proven methodologies for analyzing the evolutionary tendencies of technologies.


The value of the opportunities you will miss if you don’t integrate this skill into your innovation tool bag is huge.  (See “The Tyranny of Either-Or” for one such example.)  So now the question is, what are you doing to recognize and act upon opportunities to shorten the long nose of innovation?


[Crossposted from www.InnovatingToWin.com]