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Opinion

What’s Your Best Innovation Bet?

By Melissa Schilling

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Technology—the way inputs are transformed into outputs, or the way products and services are delivered to customers—evolves in every market.

When companies develop new technologies, they can never be certain how the market will respond. That said, the future of a given technology is not as unforeseeable as it might seem. When I work with tech companies on crafting or refining their innovation strategy, I start with an exercise that helps them anticipate where the next big breakthroughs will—or should—be. Central to the exercise is an examination of the key dimensions on which a technology has evolved—say, processing speed in computing—and the degree to which users’ needs have been satisfied. This can give companies insight into where to focus their effort and money while helping them anticipate both the moves of competitors and threats from outsiders.

One of my favorite examples comes from the consumer electronics and recording industries, which competed on the basis of audio fidelity for decades. By the mid-1990s, both industries were eager to introduce a next-generation audio format. In 1996 Toshiba, Hitachi, Time Warner, and others formed a consortium to back a new technology, called DVD-Audio, that offered superior fidelity and surround sound. They hoped to do an end run around Sony and Philips, which owned the compact disc standard and extracted a licensing fee for every CD and player sold.

Sony and Philips, however, were not going to go down without a fight. They counterattacked with a new format they had jointly developed, Super Audio CD. Those in the music industry gave a collective groan; manufacturers, distributors, and consumers all stood to lose big if they bet on the wrong format. Nonetheless, Sony launched the first Super Audio players in late 1999; DVD-Audio players hit the market in mid-2000. A costly format war seemed inevitable.

Read full article as published by Harvard Business Review
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Melissa Schilling is a Professor of Management and Organizations.