Updated: Aug 1, 2019
The timing of innovations seems to be some kind of fundamental principle or rule in innovation management. People state „right timing“ or in case of underperforming or failed innovations „wrong timing“ as a reason. Is this really helpful?
According to Csikszentmihalyi (2009) it depends on a „field of experts“ whether something is considered as an innovation or not.
The relevant groups to judge wether a product or service is an innovation are customers and users. Of course, companies and customers have different perspectives on products and services regarding the degree of innovation and the timing of market launches. Let us have a look on two examples:
What would perfect timing of innovations from the perspective of patients, physicians and further medical staff look like? In a perfect scenario diseases would be prevented before they can occur. Suffering of humans and fatalities would be minimised. This sounds unbelievable ambitious, if you take into account that human knowledge about nature is still incomplete by far.
For instance, the vaccination development tries to stay ahead of seasonal flu, with attempts to reach longer-lasting solutions according to the BBC News (2017).
Without doubt, it is a great achievement for a company to develop and offer an effective preventive treatment. But if nobody has ever seen any case of a particular disease, can a company expect to receive any financial rewards for its efforts beyond research funding? How does this influence the timing of innovations?
What does perfect timing mean for digital technology, for example in case of a mobile device? Market research companies, such as Gartner (2017) assess technological developments and provide prognosis like the well-known „Gartner Hype Cycle“. It is important to understand, that the results not only give an overview about current developments, but that the assessments and predictions influence customers and users of technology. In this scenario, perfect timing might mean, that a technology innovation is provided to the market at a time predicted by market research companies.
Of course the product or service needs to contain novelty in such a way, that customers perceive and accept it as an innovation. Perfect timing from a company perspective might mean, to launch a product or service close to the predictions and early enough to perfectly exploit the market demand.
For the so called „bad timing“ the two cases of „early“ and „late“ can be distinguished. What does „late“ mean for patients in case of a disease? Well, if there was no treatment available at all, this could have serious and fatal consequences for patients and the society. In this scenario late means too late. If there were already treatments available, the new one has to offer significant advantages in comparison to the ongoing stream of novel solutions entering the market. A company that fails to deliver a solution with significant benefits for patients and medical professionals early enough, might face serious financial consequences.
In case of digital technology being late means not fulfilling the expectations of customers and users in the addressed market or the schedule of market research companies. A company that disappoints customers or major influencers and decision makers in the market, might experience disappointing sales figures and financial performance.
Let us have a look on the opposite case. Can you imagine a scenario where a treatment for a disease is available early or even too early? From the perspective of a patient and a medical professional this means, having a solution available before a disease occurs or even before they know that this problem might exist. Reaching this situation in any dimension could offer total prevention in health care. Turning this scenario into reality comes with almost unimaginable challenges in research. For a company launching such a product or service means being ahead of market expectations and demand. It might lead to commercial success, if it is not to far ahead of the market demand, but stays significantly ahead of any competitor.
In case of digital technology, early or too early means that customers, influencers and decision makers of a market are surprised by an unexpected product or service. Being early can lead to commercial success, if a company succeeds to convince relevant market participants of the benefits of its solution. But, too early does imply, that a company fails to convince the market.
The statement „we were too early“ is well-known for underperforming or failed innovations in particular. But is this really the case? It means a company offers a product or service at a point of time where no market demand exists. Furthermore, it fails to create any sufficient demand. Maybe there is no need for what the company offers. The company fails to address successfully the known or hidden customer needs. Maybe, the market participants do not recognise the product or service because of failed marketing and communications or specific market barriers.
Of course, the path from an idea to a successful innovation is full of challenges and hurdles. Sometimes it is impossible to bridge a gap in the innovation efforts, without a solution or technology that has not been invented at that point of time.
As mentioned before, it can be a question of perspectives and interests, whether a timing of an innovation is right or wrong. Right timing for a company might not be perfect for customers and vice versa.
The timing of an innovation is a result of many direct and indirect decisions on different levels made before. The most famous indirect decision might be „keep waiting“. Of course, all the processes and guidelines involved in the development of innovations are outcomes of previous decisions.
Therefore, the mediocre timing of an innovation can be considered as some type of symptom of insufficient decision making. It is highly recommended to analyse both the successful and the disappointing innovation projects. Try to understand the decision making procedures and the intended effects as well as the side-effects. Do not accept statements like „wrong timing“ or „we were too early“ as an explanation, if you really want to improve your innovation activities.
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Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Creativity: flow and the Psychology of Discovery and invention. [Apple iBook]. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/creativity/id360608711?mt=11
BBC News (2017, October 03), Flu vaccine: NHS patients wanted to test 'universal' jab, [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-41467097?intlink_from_url=http://www.bbc.com/news/topics/cvenzmgyg2vt/flu&link_location=live-reporting-story
Gartner (2017, November 27). Technology Research | Gartner Inc. [Website]. Retrieved from https://www.gartner.com/technology/home.jsp