Dictionary definitions of innovation indicate that this extends to “the alteration of what is established”, whether a thing, practice or method, as well as new inventions. In the creation of radical new markets, Costas Markides points out that there is another, distinct aspect to innovation beyond the creation of the product or service: that is the creation of a mass market. The latter, if achieved – and here he emphasizes that timing is of the essence – can provide huge returns, far exceeding those made by the pioneers.
Professor Markides’ argument for aspiring to be a “fast second” mover rather than a pioneer in a radical new market is compelling. But the timing question is no easy one. “Fast second” movers, as he dubs them, need to come in at just the right time, contributing to what will emerge as the dominant design. Knowing how and when to do this is the “one million or ten million dollar question”. And, as he points out, getting that timing right is largely down to luck even if there are some potential indicators as to the right time to move.
There is also, it appears, an optimum age for the creative side of innovation – representing the time needed to absorb sufficient knowledge and to develop the expertise and confidence to innovate successfully. A recent, fascinating piece of research funded by the US National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has established that the average age of successful innovators, whether in the arts, business or sciences, is 29. The world-changing creativity of Nobel prize winners takes somewhat longer to come to fruition – at almost 40 years old. Interestingly, the research reveals that every decade sees an extension to these average ages of 0.6 years – presumably representing the ever growing body of knowledge that creative people need to get to grips with. However, this is clearly time well spent.