Friday, April 6, 2012
Where does innovation come from?
I worked in research and technology management at Texas Instruments for fourteen years. There were two main reasons that companies like TI had research departments. The first was to come up with new technologies and inventions that would lead to new products and financial growth. The second reason was defensive: if a competitor came up with something new, the folks in research could assess the level of threat it posed compared with existing technologies.
Considering those inventions, there are two kinds of inventions that companies come up with: incremental (also called sustaining) and breakthrough (also called discontinuities). Incremental innovation is absolutely critical to a company. In TI's case, their business was based primarily in integrated circuits and the incremental inventions were mainly in production: they are the remarkable set of inventions that keep giving us more transistors and more complex circuits in integrated circuits at lower cost. To a large extent, no one but big corporations can do this kind of incremental invention. They have the existing equipment and processes so they have the best visibility into how it might be improved.
Breakthroughs don't typically come from big companies any more (although occasionally they do.) The most common scenario for a breakthrough invention is that someone in a garage or a small company takes a risk on a radical new idea. The majority of radical new ideas result in failure. But a few of them turn out to have great advantages over the way things are currently done.
Posted at 12:00 AM (permalink)
0 Comments View/Leave Comment