"The trend is your friend" is a famous saying. Many people know it from the stock markets and trading securities. It can also be true for innovations. As human behavior contains irrational aspects and emotions can play an essential role in buying decisions, it should be no surprise that trends can reflect these aspects.
Innovation has multiple dimensions. The degree of change or novelty in comparison to the so-far existing or known is one dimension. It ranges from small changes in the form of continuous improvement to extreme shifts, such as breakthroughs, radical, or disruptive innovations.
Trends are located somewhere in between these poles. In innovation, you can follow trends or try to set a new trend yourself. Both strategies can be beneficial but also contain risks. Breakthrough, radical, or disruptive innovations can potentially define trends, as they significantly change existing markets and businesses, or create new ones. In the aftermath of these significant changes, often, numerous smaller innovations occur along with a new trend.
Electrification and Digitalization
Older generations might remember the electrification of public transport in the last century in central and western Europe that required substantial investments and significant technological developments. Electrification seems to attract less attention than the omnipresent topic of digitalization. But the electrification is still ongoing and produces remarkable innovations: Tesla has shaken up the global car industry with its electric vehicles. Disruptive shifts are the consequences. Currently, further electrifications are taking place with bicycles, large ships, and even smaller airplanes.
A simple innovation strategy might be for you to follow this general trend. Search systematically for other items that can be electrified, leading to beneficial results for customers and users.
Electrics, electronics, and software have been adjacent technologies. Aside from fiber optics and the upcoming quantum computing, digital information processing, and control technologies comes with electrical signals. It is relatively easy to connect machines that already run with electrical power and control systems to the digital world. Therefore, the integration of electrical items like coffee machines, refrigerators, and washing machines into the digital world or the so-called internet of things, is just an obvious step. Both electrification and digitalization can go hand in hand.
There are more than enough cases of items, tools, and machines left in our private and professional world, where the primary power source is non-electrical, or no electrical control systems are applied. Just take a quick look at things in your environment and think about whether they are handled and controlled electrically, manually, or in other ways.
The Apple Watch is another example of a disruptive innovation that functions as a trendsetter. Particularly in the version with cellular connectivity, it demonstrates how to integrate a wristwatch into the digital world. This trend allowed further innovations in the fields of sports, health-tech, communications, and other applications.
Another simple innovation strategy for you might be to search systematically for other items, tools, and machines, that are waiting to be integrated into the digital world, creating benefits for customers and users.
Some might say, just looking for things that can be electrified or digitalized is too simple to be a successful innovation approach. Well, even today, too many companies just innovate in tiny steps close to continuous improvement and cope with well-known trends. This behavior makes them vulnerable and allows innovators such as Apple to disrupt the entire watch industry by reinventing the wristwatch as a connected digital mobile device. It is even more dramatic in the case of Tesla's electric vehicles. They not only disrupt the entire car industry by electrifying cars but furthermore digitalize everything they can. Their cars are digital platforms that gather vast amounts of data to power artificial intelligence technologies on the way to autonomous vehicles.
Identifying and understanding trends is vital for innovators. The degree of change or novelty is an essential dimension of innovation. Today, many companies still innovate in small steps and risk getting disrupted by more courageous and ambitious innovators. Electrification and digitalization have been trends for many years. Both are still having the potential to disrupt entire industries. Be vigilant and ask yourself and your colleagues these questions:
What else can be electrified?
What else can be digitalized?
Are there other new, hidden, or underestimated trends?
Are we at risk of getting disrupted?
Can we innovate by following a promising trend ("surfing the wave")?
Can we define new trends by creating disruptive innovations?
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Sources and Recommendations
Apple Watch (2020). Retrieved from https://www.apple.com/watch
Tesla (2020). Retrieved from https://www.tesla.com
Thiebus, S. (2020). 10 Steps to Create a Mindset for Successful Technology Innovation. Retrieved from https://www.thiebus.com/create-innovation-mindset