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Today, the innovation gap is further aggravated by the fact that not only do users have needs and wants, they have avenues to tell us what they want. We live in a society that is highly connected, highly mobile, and heavily invested in technology. The internet has disrupted all forms of communication. New tools of “social media” create unprecedented opportunities to create, share, cooperate, and take collective action. Through portals like Engadget and Gizmodo, users today can congregate to profess their love or express their displeasure. Because information is free to produce and broadcast, it spreads fast and virally. Often times an aggregate effect of this viral reaction can build or kill brands. We are moving from an industrial economy to an information economy. The information economy is not a post-industrial economy. In fact value is embodied as much in material products as in hybrid platforms of material and information. However, if the product of the industrial economy was the appliance - products that do one thing and do it well, the product of the information economy is the platform - where users use information to build appliances that fit their specific user need. In the information economy, the dominant voice is no longer that of the corporate which says “you can have it in any colour, as long as it is black”, but that of the anonymous consumer who says, give me what I want, in the style I like, via the channel I want - and I want it at a lower price than yesterday.” . So, what can organisations do to innovate in the information economy? Here I offer three strategies that might help organisation reduce the innovation gap: Strategy 1: Prototype at the fuzzy front end An executive who worked at both Apple and Microsoft described the differences in the two organisations this way:
Sites like Engadget and Gizmodo are important backchannels for conversations about IT. So influential are the conversations on blogs that they’re tracked by Apple, Google, Microsoft and HTC for product development.
Microsoft tries to find pockets of unrealised revenue and then figures out what to make. Apple is just the opposite. There’s only one person in Apple responsible for profit and loss. The CFO. Everyone else is charged with coming up with great products. Prototypes and demos always come before spreadsheets . Organisations that were founded by visionaries often find it difficult to carry on the same pace of innovation once the founder leaves the organisation. The problem is in infancy, an organisation is nimble and quick on its feet, but as it grows, larger organisations have to consider multiple factors before making an investment decision. Understandably so - a large organisation is responsible to its investors, its employees, and its own brand. A healthy balance sheet is a signifier of a healthy organisation. But innovation does not come from a healthy balance sheet. Innovation is about taking risks. One way to take risks without breaking the bank is to prototype everything – ideas, products, services, business models, sales strategies, communication strategies. An organisation that is constantly prototyping with users is more likely to close the innovation gap. The real question is not if you prototype, but where you prototype. In the industrial economy, prototypes came at the end of the design process and were used to validate business decisions about the fuzzy front end. In the information economy prototypes come at the beginning of the design process and are low fidelity, low investment experiments to understand the fuzzy front end. Take Google for example. In the past few years, Google has released three fully working versions (in beta format) of social networking platforms. None of them were wild successes but Google builds on its failures by understanding what users need. The information