We all like predictable outcomes. We all like to define success and focus our energy (and money) on activities that lead to a predictable outcome (a.k.a., success). But here is the rub… predictability requires that the process and the mechanisms are well understood.
So how do we get to predictable outcomes when the mechanisms are not well understood (e.g., emerging technology).
That challenge is one of the fundamental challenges to innovation. For clarity let me give you my working definition of innovation:
The novel application of a tool to solve a need.
By listening to our user’s we are able to create list after list of things that fall under “need” in our working definition of innovation. The implied question is: 1) What happens when you develop a strong practice for finding needs, but fail to do the same for building the tool kit?
The simple answer is that innovation suffers. If you accept that innovation is the novel combination of a recognized need and a tool to solve that need it naturally follows that innovative organizations build competency in both acquiring new tools (building their tool kit) and recognizing what their customers and prospective customers need.
Experimentation Builds the Tool Kit
Experimentation – specifically Emerging Technology Experiments – can form the center piece of an effective competency around building the tool kit. There are other mechanisms which can be used to build the tool kit, such as outside in perspectives. For example, Gartner Magic Quadrants, review of what similar businesses are doing, etc.
There is, however, one important thing to remember when relying on these outside in mechanisms – they are trailing indicators. Essentially you are creating your future based on what others have already done.
Experimentation is the only effective leading indicator for building the tool kit. As importantly, experimentation allows a company to build internal knowledge of what emerging technologies do, are capable of, and how they are best put to use. It is very difficult to determine if a particular technology solves a need without some understanding of that tool. More importantly, if we have no competency in the technology it takes a significant amount of time and money to develop that competency before we can begin realizing the innovation.
Last, but certainly not least, experimentation can stimulate the recognition of unmet need. An understanding of emerging technology can allow us to see a better way of doing something – even when the current way appears acceptable.
Experimentation adds value in the same way that understanding the needs of the customer does… they are both inputs into innovation… doing both well increases the probability that we will innovate.