In the past 10 years at Lux, we’ve produced more than 800 reports. I set out to review what kind of story the topics of these reports tell about shifts in innovation. It turns out, the conversation around emerging technologies has changed quite a bit, and larger themes have gained importance over time. I dive deep in the whitepaper, “From Big to Small: Innovation lessons from a decade of emerging technology research.” Here’s our most-read reports from the past decade:
2010: Chasing Cars: Can Composites Catch Up to Steel?
2011: Carbon Fiber and Beyond: The $26 Billion World of Advanced Composites
2012: Stronger, Lighter, Faster… Cheaper? How Innovation Will Affect Carbon Fiber’s Cost and Market Impact
2013: Shale Takes on Automotive: The Future of Natural Gas Vehicles
2014: How 3D Printing Adds Up: Emerging Materials, Processes, Applications, and Business Models
2015: Key Alternative Fuel Companies and Developments in 2015
2016: Supermajor Darwinism: What Big Oil Can and Cannot Do About Total’s Billion-Dollar Battery Move
2017: Business Model Innovation: Industry’s Latest Fad or a Useful Approach to Strategy?
2018: China’s Quest for Global Innovation Dominance
2019: Artificial Intelligence: A Framework to Identify Challenges and Guide Successful Outcomes
You always hope for a neat narrative to emerge when examining data, but this took a bit more analysis before a lesson revealed itself. Rather than a shift in technical/market focus, it became clear that the shift was in the scope of topics that innovators focus on. As the title of the whitepaper implies, I found that innovation organizations have focused more on “Big” themes that impact an entire organization, rather than “Small” scope where the focus is on jumping from technology to technology.
Coupled with my experience working directly with innovation leaders, three different strategic approaches to innovation emerged:
The technology-first approach. This is the province of the most immature innovation organizations. While it can give fruitful results, it’s hit or miss and often involves bad behavior where executives lob hot technologies at their teams without a strong rationale for the alignment to overall strategy and how it solves a market need (blockchain, anyone?).
The industry-first approach. Most corporations are comfortable thinking about a specific application or market where they are motivated to protect market share and, in some cases, think about future trends that could create growth. Often this starts with incremental thinking, and there’s often a lag before they act on disruptive trends (think of the slow transition from electric vehicle innovation to autonomous vehicle innovation).
The theme-first approach. The first two approaches aren’t necessarily bad or doomed to fail but can leave blind spots and often suffer from the lack of a larger vision that captures greater growth opportunity. As the more recent reports on our list attest to, broader themes like business models, regional shifts, or huge technology families with massive disruptive potential are driving the thinking of innovation organizations more and more. We believe this is the optimal way to unify innovation strategy – to think Big before pursuing the Small.
We dive deeper in the whitepaper, with more discussion of the different approaches and useful tools therein. Some will read this and nod, perhaps even think this is old news, as they work in more sophisticated organizations. But a large cohort will also realize they are operating with a scattershot technology approach or narrow industry lens that limits the potential to find the next big thing.
- Whitepaper: From Big to Small: Innovation lessons from a decade of emerging technology research (Free Download)
- Executive Summary: 20 for 20 Annual Report (Free Download)