What if part of your innovation journey was to go back to the future?

3, 2, 1, go! Your company is now ready to innovate! The senior management message is that innovation is key to become more competitive. Everybody needs to be part of the quest for the silver bullet.

Your R&D team starts looking at how they could increase the performance of your product range: smaller chips, polymers that melt faster during extrusion, phone cameras with more megapixels than competitors.

If your marketing group is powerful, they will certainly mingle with the R&D team and influence their work. By revealing unmet customer needs and identifying new attractive market segments (i.e. sizable, profitable, growing, etc.) for which your company has or can acquire a competitive edge, they will steer product development efforts in the right direction.

If on top of this your firm also benefits from a business development organization that collaborates with marketing and R&D, your company might even look at what collaboration opportunities exist out there, whether through alliances, licensing, startup acquisitions.

Finally, a professional innovation management function steering the process, will help your business to go beyond incremental product features. They will think in terms of new market spaces, “value chain impact points”, “customer’s job to be done”, business model changes, solutions, etc.

As you can see there are many positive steps towards building an innovative company and also different levels of innovation culture.

Now, what if on top of doing all this forwards-looking innovation work, you could also look back…

Back from the future

Why look back? Because great ideas from the past might have been dismissed too quickly many years ago. The business eco-system (infrastructures, state subsidies, complementing technologies, price-point, etc.) were not adequate at that time, stronger lobbies won the race, or geopolitical factors disturbed an otherwise obvious path.

Think automotive: today, we all know that petroleum reserves are finite and subject to geopolitical tensions (as if the club of Rome report in 1972 did not contain enough clues… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Club_of_Rome)

We are now therefore finally looking at alternative forms of propulsion, such as bio-fuel, hydrogen cells, electricity, hybrid gasoline/electricity and even compressed-air or hybrid wind/electricity.


But let’s now look at when these technologies were first considered for automotive:

Bio-fuel and electricity started to be used and perfected to power automotive combustion engines from the mid 19th century. The fuel cell technology principle was drafted in 1839 and tested in the mid 20th century on cars. The Maglev (magnetic levitation) technology was patented in 1905. As for compressed air, the first idea came from Dennis Papin in 1687 and the first air-compressed car developed in France performed well on a racetrack in 1838…




But petroleum won the race and all other smart ideas were left gathering dust in cupboards like old toys.

Now let’s imagine for a minute that petroleum did not exist, EVER…

Well, I’m sure that today we would have plenty of very efficient cars or mobility solutions, running either on electricity, compressed-air, bio-fuel or a mix of them. Instead of going to the petrol station you would stop at the air-station. We might even have Maglev cars (which could be the end-game as they will need nearly no energy without frictions on the road).

In other words, we lost more than 150 years not perfecting these technologies and not lowering their cost while using inefficiently petroleum (until new laws forced combustion engines to become more efficient and pollute less…makes me think that may be free markets are not so efficient, right?)

Therefore, while your companies start their journeys to reach a higher innovation level, what about also traveling into the past? What about exploring technologies that might have been dismissed at a time and could now perfectly address customers and society needs?

You might even have had patents on them that are now public domain. All you have to do is make improvement claims and file new patents…

I wish you a great innovation trip to the future and to the past.