What is a world-changing innovation, and how do you spot it ahead of time? All too often, the word brings to mind some shiny new gadget or an app launched by an absurdly well-funded Silicon Valley start-up, but most real innovations - new things that have impact - are more unobtrusive, slowly altering the texture of our world over time, so that we hardly notice that our lives have changed, until they’ve changed beyond recognition. Touch screens, cloud computing and Crispr-cas9 gene editing technology may not have ignited much initial passion outside specialist circles, but they’ve changed the world far more than WeWork or Tinder ever will.
What does an innovation need in order to be successful? Herman Hauser, an entrepreneur and investor who has been turning scientific ideas into businesses for half a century, says that three conditions have to be met. One, the market has to be big enough. Two, there has to be a good team, often with a star. And three, the technology has to work. But the tech itself is the least important part. “I’ve seen many times that an A team with C tech will beat the C team with an A technology,” he says.
Christian Madsbjerg, founder of the ReD consultancy, says that “innovation is often a bet” on an existing idea that makes it useful. Technologies or ideas can spend years on blackboards or in labs until people decide to invest in them and make them happen. Take the internet. “No one individual had the idea,” Madsbjerg says. Instead, it was created by telephone companies, software developers, people who wrote protocols, and later others who overlaid it with useful applications like ecommerce.