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Boom and bust

Will Kherbek
art critic
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piqer: Will Kherbek
Tuesday, 11 December 2018

What We Talk About When We Talk About Innovation

Innovation is such a common word in reporting about business that its familiarity seems to conceal as much as it expresses. What is innovation, after all? Is it a new thing? Is it an old thing used in a new way? Is it a new relationship that changes a previous context? After a bit of thought, innovation would seem to include all these meanings and many others. Michael Kitson, presenter of the Cambridge Judge Business School’s podcast series, brings together three luminaries from the world of business studies, Sucheta Nadkarni, Jeremy Hutchison-Krupat, and Simon Stockley, to debate the meaning (and meanings) of this most apparently familiar of economic buzzwords.

Hutchison-Krupat notes that innovation is not always about having a brilliant idea, but how such an idea can become useful. Many great ideas lie fallow for decades. Such was the case of Corning’s “gorilla glass”, indispensable for smartphone screens, which sat on company’s shelves after being developed in the 1960s until Corning used its strategy of building alliances to find a market for its nearly forgotten innovation. Nadkarni emphasises the importance of networks as means of bringing innovations to market, but also as innovations in themselves. Platforms, of course, are increasingly economic entities in their own right and pose challenges for innovation as well as opportunities. Stockley argues that the tendency to dominate a market, like the large platform companies do, can lead to a lag in innovation and can be deadly for a company, as was the case with Nokia, a mobile device overlord in the 1990s, now an also-ran in the market it once dominated. 

Throughout, the emphasis on networks, alliances and connections recurs, suggesting, as all the participants discuss, that the market alone is not enough to produce useful innovation; without institutions (even *shock!* government help), little can be done. An innovation without a community to use it is just another bright idea.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Innovation
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