By: Tuck School of Business Communications Posted: Mar 21st, 2014

Ron Adner has an unique take on innovation. Success, he says, has less to do with an idea itself than it does with its place in an entire ecosystem. “Innovation now depends not just on your own successful execution, but on your ability to see your hidden partners and find ways to align them,” says Adner, a Tuck professor of strategy and entrepreneurship and author of the acclaimed book, “The Wide Lens: A New Strategy of Innovation.” “The book is the perch that has allowed me to see this bigger picture,” he says.

Strategy is the new bottleneck. Innovation is not a matter of high-tech or even mid-tech, but rather the way we organize things—whether they’re technologies, organizations, relationships, or business models. That has always been true, but never so true as it is now and will be in the future.

Risk will be assessed differently. The nature of risk expands to include not just your ability to execute, but also your ability to lead this collaborative ecosystem. Before, if you’re assessing the risk behind an activity the question would be, ‘Do we have something the customer wants, can we deliver it, and can we beat the competition?’ Now it’s ‘Can we align everybody in order to deliver this thing, and can we capture as much of the pie as we’re hoping to?’

The ecosystem will redefine winning. The ecosystem doesn’t just affect which innovations succeed; it affects the distribution of success. You can contrast what we’ve seen with the iPhone versus Android. Apple retains more of the value in the iPhone ecosystem than does Google in the Android ecosystem.

The future will be collaborative. To bring more complex ideas to market, innovators will need to harness the capabilities and resources of multiple partners. At the same time, technology will continue to make collaboration easier, cheaper, and more universal.

Innovation begets innovation. Take the example of Facebook and Zynga, the online game startup, which in 2009, took FarmVille from zero to 10 million users in just six weeks. When Facebook came about, it created an opportunity for Zynga to succeed.

Your kid’s bedroom is the new NASA. During the Space Race, if you wanted to write software for NASA you had to be at IBM. Today, you could be a 14-year-old kid in a Brazilian suburb. It used to be that you could write a program in your bedroom. Then you could write an app and distribute it through the Apple ecosystem. Now you can design a product and have it manufactured in China, or create it in your bedroom with a 3-D printer.

Bets will be smaller and more frequent. When we reduce entry barriers, sometimes we also reduce the willingness to make big investments. Investors may want to revisit where they lay their bets. In many industries, big firms are no longer the only entities with the resources to bring an idea to market.

The company with the fewest barriers wins. Suddenly there’s this new dimension that you need to evaluate, which is not just ‘Is this something we want to do?’ but also ‘Who is most likely to be able to do it?’ And that calculation is changing as these barriers fall. You could probably make a pretty good bet that the people who are driving down the barriers will probably be in a pretty good position.


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