Ideas are Portable

We always ask our clients to be prepared for existential threats to their business from unexpected quarters, and not just worry about known competitors, because ideas and innovation patterns are portable across industries. On the positive side, businesses can also learn a great deal by observing how other industries are innovating. Interdisciplinary learning is critical to innovation.

One of the key insights, and one that is not so intuitive, is that the way innovation happens in business, is often portable across industries even if the specific use cases are not. This includes how emerging technologies are employed to power innovation. For example, Apple’s iTunes business model revolutionized the music industry. All of its offerings, including the iPod, the iTunes store, appeared to have been crafted precisely for the music industry. But underlying these music-industry specific offerings, was the real innovation – deconstructing the package (in this case a CD with 8 or more songs) into its constituents (songs) and allowing consumers to buy individual components, instead of forcing them to buy the entire package! This pattern was portable across multiple industries – and has indeed led to a lot of innovation there. Smaller recharge plans for cellphones, small cold drink bottles, are examples of the same pattern applied to different industries. Other examples of this portability include ‘Uberization’, and the ‘Pre-paid services’ models.

These examples prove that interdisciplinary learning and understanding of applications is critical for any innovation program. Efforts should be spent on setting up teams that are actively scanning the business environment to identify such patterns, and more importantly what they could mean to your own business and industry.