Riding the Waves of Innovation– Surfing the Engine of Economic Growth– Catch the Wave, or Risk Wipe-Out…

Innovation is the engine of economic growth; over the past 100 year it’s clear that innovation– more than inputs of capital and labor– is what drives a modern economy… Innovation and application of technological know-how and scientific discoveries accounts for over half of all economic growth… According to Irving Wladawsky-Berger; every decade or so (it used to be about every 50 years) the world goes through a major innovation technology-based economic revolution– also known as Kondratiev Waves…

Historically, the cycle of innovations is as follows; a cycle starts when a new innovation begins to emerge, which stimulates investment, which invigorate markets, which gets embraced by entrepreneurs who start new businesses based on these new technologies, and begins to gain market share at the expense of the then existing technology… eventually, the new innovation dominates markets, set standards, kill-off weaker rivals… but then over time, it too becomes venerable from other emerging new innovations…

wave1 waves_of_innovation

Eventually, the cycle of innovation is repeated; it begins again as a new wave, which destroys the old way of doing things and creates conditions for a new cycle… According to Joseph Schumpeter; it’s a process of– ‘creative destruction’… These new innovations continue to attract more and more financial capital from investors, which in turn helps to improve the quality and lowers the cost of the new technology, and leads to many new innovative applications… And over time, these new paradigms significantly transform global economies, as well as, re-shaping social behavior and institutions of society… Hence, the previous decades of ‘creative destruction’ now become a golden age of ‘creative construction’…

wave waves-of-innovation

In the article The Surfers of Innovation by Maurício Manhães writes: The sport of surfing is a perfect metaphor for understanding the phenomenon of innovation… Of course, I am not the first person to equate waves with innovation in business. This discourse was created by several early researchers and further developed by Joseph Schumpeter, who in his theory connected– innovations, cycles, development… and his continuing hero was the entrepreneur… But for me, it’s a surfer…

For Schumpeter, capitalism ‘looks like’ an evolutionary process producing– continually alternating waves of innovation and destruction… which are waves, followed by waves, all come crashing onto a beach… Hence, surfing offers countless metaphors that can help to understand the evolutionary nature of ‘innovation’, for example:

  • The Wave: Nobody creates a wave. It just ‘happens’ out of countless uncontrollable interactions of the sea with winds, the movement of the moon, and anything else that affects bodies of water. Surfers don’t create waves… A wave is just a wave and no more. It may be small, medium large or a ‘tube’. It may be good for surfing or not… The wave, as a generative metaphor, symbolizes the will of a social context to direct its resources/energy towards a sector or product (goods or services). The ‘sea’, in this metaphor represents human beings, a society; and, incredible as it may seem, society is as uncontrollable as the wave…
  • The Surfer: So, the wave is uncontrollable. But, it can be surfed. And it may be poorly or very well surfed… In the case of innovation, the surfer is like an entrepreneur. The wave is the ‘energy’, channeled by a sea of people in a certain ‘direction’. The surfer’s maneuvers are the products created. And in that resides an interesting concept: the maneuvers do not themselves create waves; likewise, products do not create demands…
  • The Beach: Well, the beach is the niche of expertise, each with its own characteristic set of waves. One that may be crowded or just have you alone on it. Indeed, the pleasure of riding the perfect wave on a deserted beach might be phenomenal… but finding a ‘new’ beach with perfect waves is a very risky adventure. Most of the times it’s better to head for a well-known surfer’s beach and try to create new maneuvers…
  • Innovation: Joining these elements (i.e., wave, surfer, beach) you can understand the dynamics of innovation a little better. We can also clearly see the  difficulty of predicting who will be the next innovative ‘billionaire’. For this to occur requires the coincidence of these three factors: ideal beach, prefect wave, gifted surfer…

In the article Riding the Crest of the Wave by Leonard Sweet writes: Riding the crest of a wave can be the ‘moment’ when you are most likely to be swept into– depression, panic… or, euphoric exhilaration… Reaching a position of success and acceptance, through innovations; entails hard, slogging work… long hours of study, unfulfilling chores, unimportant ‘entry’ level jobs, carefully cultivated ‘right’ relationships…

The moment of your greatest success and achievement is when you are riding the crest of a great wave of business ingenuity, is also the moment you are most likely to be subjected to the severest temptations; gnawed by your most debilitating insecurities, and seduced into believing the most grandiose visions of your own abilities… For most then, wave-riding puts you into dangerous and tenuous positions, but reaching the crest of the wave and riding with the wind is an ecstatic experience…

Remember the poster of the Peanuts’ beagle ‘Snoopy’, surfing at the tip of a perfectly curled wave, shouting his victory cry; Cowabunga! It’s these moments of pure joy, of unabashed rejoicing, but they are only ‘moments’… It’s how you follow-up those sporadic successes that determines your ability to grow, so that you may be prepared to struggle your way up the next on-coming wave…

wave kondratiev-4

In the article Releasing Innovation: Riding the Wave by Scott Propp writes: Something amazing happens when a wave of innovation moves through your company; lifting-up and carrying the ripest ideas all the way to market without losing their freshness and vitality… However, most companies are actually doing the opposite– they are focused on pushing innovation that fits within a pre-existing model, out the door…

The problem here is that once a product has been successful within a first core market, other growing market needs, tend to go unnoticed. It’s important to remember that once one set of needs is locked onto and served, it’s time to look for the next wave– and for sure another one is always being formed: Finding this next wave takes– listening, learning, doing… Instead of just pushing and driving innovation from within an organization, you want to become perfectly poised to catch and ride the edges of two waves: the technology capability wave’ and the ‘market needs wave’

Finding the next wave is essential for sustainability, and when an organization catches the next wave and its formation is just right, the effects on business are transformational…

There is no shortage of new innovations in the world, but innovations without execution are just that, innovations…It’s vital to have the courage to champion your innovation with passion and conviction, take the appropriate risks to ensure that it goes from a sketch to a finished product, and the tenacity to ensure that nothing gets in the way of seeing it to commercialization… According to Shawn Parr; innovation is hard, because it means finding new, original ways to solve problems, or inventing something completely new. There are always significant barriers in the journey to commercialize innovation, which is laden with many challenges, reasons to quit… It takes incredible determination to do something new for the first time and overcome the obstacles to succeed…

According to Edward Draper; innovation is like a wave; there are people in it, and people riding on it. The trick is to ride the wave your are on, and to prepare for the next wave… Like surfing and comedy, timing is everything; if you try to move too soon you are likely to be wiped-out or lost– if you move too late all the energy is gone… Innovation is scary– and not just to those that are being disrupted… but also for the disruptor who is driving radical change, and although it might be very exciting… but it’s also full of risk… An innovative wave is full of adrenalin-fuelled energy, and best place to be is– riding its crest, like the surfer…

wave th1PMJKC4Y

According to Alex Frankel; surfing is all about spotting the opportunity to crest the wave in a turbulent environments… In big-wave surfing, you must stay calm in chaos, and the big attraction in surfing is that you never master it, very much like business… That’s why people get so hooked; as soon as you think that you have everything wired, a wave comes along and wipes you out, again very much like business… According to Sharad Sharma; surfing the waves of innovation means having behavioral traits, such as; stepping outside one’s comfort zone… having an internal compass, relying on one’s self-mastery… getting comfortable to stand out, being an underdog… persisting in the face of adversity…

According to David Brier; the single difference between the innovator and the ordinary person; innovators sees the dots and connected them, while others 1) didn’t see them, or 2) if they did, they didn’t– explore, question, or connect any of them… It’s a constant attentiveness to how things are applied… it’s the foundation for innovation…

So what is innovation? It’s those other dots; the ones others miss… and, having the certainty to know that the dots you see are not only valid, but necessary if the world is to move forward…