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Innovation Surfing, Riding Waves of Change

Passionate surfers find secret spots like Mavericks rather than accept the local spots with small waves or the crowded, well-known spots.

Legendary innovators are great at wave spotting. Steve Jobs saw the waves of interest that education, business, and eventually consumers had for for desktop computing and printing.  Sergey Brin and Larry Page saw the demand for Internet search and its money-making connection to advertising. 3M listened to consumer fascination with Post Its to create a multi-billion dollar division that converted their light adhesive into slips of colored paper that we could not live without.

Which “innovation waves” will be the most rewarding in the next five to ten years?  Certainly mainstream business and technology media have no lack of momentous waves. But instead of expanding on the waves that are crowded, I suggest that, like the most passionate surfers, we explore the less-discussed spots that have growing waves to propel good ideas and innovations to shore

As a regional ecosystem architect, I am part of a team that listens to global networks for innovation waves. Some of the signals indicate future waves, which we analyze and then visit, to see how surfable the waves might be. A sampling of what we are investigating includes:

Was                                          Today                                                  Future  

Business plans                       Business models                                Simulations

R&D inside                             R&D challenge (outside)                  Regional challenge

Startup, local market           Startup local, add new markets       Startup global from start

Angel/VC fund                      Crowd source/fund + angels           Naked investing

One degree then work          Degree, work, degree, work             Learn & work same time

Business modeling has gone mainstream thanks to research by Alex Osterwalder and a global community of business model generators (BMG). One wave of change in this space flows from the tools that are being developed to convert the BMG canvas on a page into dynamic tools. We are now looking at the convergence of BMG with simulations and gaming tools, to model alternative assumptions that can be market-tested in hours or days.

A growing number of companies are looking outside their walls for innovative solutions. Groups like Procter & Gamble, for example, are leading from the top with goals to have 50 percent of new products from external innovations. P&G has been a pioneer with the concept of “Connect and Develop” as one of their engines for achieving their innovation goals.

Historically, a startup’s location telegraphed its initial market and global headquarters: local. The startup model in vogue today is local with rapid scale-up plans after local validation and funding. The next wave has startups forming with teams in multiple locations – to attract cost effective skills plus run global market tests from day one – often with a legal entity in another location. Some have labeled this a “global startup.”

US surfer Laird Hamilton rides a wave at Teahupoo in Tahiti on May 14, 2013. Top surfers in the world gathered in Teahupoo during the  week to
ride waves up to 26 feet high. Photo: GREGORY BOISSY/AFP/Getty Images

Funding of tech ventures was the arena of family, fools, and friends followed by angels, and for those blessed or lucky enough, venture capital. As the cost of startups in the IT and mobile space dropped, startups have been able to crowdsource to pre-sell their products (Kickstarter claims they have helped raise more than $480m) or crowdfund with support from small angels. An emerging new trend has been called ‘naked investing’ by some, where angels loan money for one to three years and paid back with interest plus an exit right when the venture is sold.

Education has been in the media with MOOCs offering new courses, universities claiming they are in financial trouble, and legions of the unemployed needing fresh skills. The seeds of change are abundant. Historically, a large number of students attended university, got a degree, and went to work. Some called this a ticket to the game. But more recently, a bachelor’s degree earned in one’s early twenties was  used again as a ticket to the workforce for five to ten years before another degree became necessary to shift industries or receive a promotion. The next trend that looks to be taking shape is around the consumer being responsible for continuing education throughout a career.

While some might say wave riding is akin to push marketing, where the product is produced and then pushed to market, I suggest the physics of waves be considered. Global winds blow across thousands of kilometers, gradually pushing the surface of the ocean into waves. In business and technology, the wind can be viewed as the voice of consumers and markets asking: “What we have isn’t quite right! Why can’t someone make something better and more intuitive?” Voice by voice, they build to become a breeze that entices industry to innovate and produce new solutions, products, and services.  Waves may therefore be viewed as the best of both PUSH (momentum) and PULL (demand), propelling ideas to markets.

Legendary big wave surfers like Laird Hamilton have made a science out of predicting where big waves will be. Whatever your choice for prediction, modeling and planning, may your quest for waves of change be as disciplined and rewarding.

Scott Gillespie is an Ecosystem and Venture Architect with the T2 Venture Creation , which is sponsoring the Global Innovation Summit taking place this week in Silicon Valley.  He also is the Founder, Director of the Jigsaw GroupThis is the second piece in an Ideas Lab special series about Innovation coming from the Summit.

Innovation Surfing, Riding Waves of Change was originally published on Ideas Lab

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