The need seekers

Strategic consulting firm Booz & Company recently released its annual “Global Innovation 1000” report. In a preprint, “Making ideas work” (available as a PDF), the company claims:

“The early stages of innovation can be challenging. But Booz & Company’s annual study of R&D spending reveals that successful innovators bring clarity to a process often described as fuzzy and vague.”

In a post on LinkedIn, author, speaker and thought leader on innovation Gijs van Wulfen does a good job recapping the core ideas contained in the Booz report. Among these is a segmentation of innovators along three lines:

  • Need seekers, engaged directly with end-users
  • Market readers, who closely watch their markets and competitors
  • Technology drivers, firms that rely on an internal competency

In his post, van Wulfen notes that firms categorized as “need seekers”, the ones that start with the end user, are more consistent at generating innovative ideas and bringing them to market. In the period of study, they also record better financial returns than the other two categories of innovators.

One thing that van Wulfen might have explored a bit more starts with a chart on page 11 of the preprint PDF (exhibit 3). In it, Booz measured the propensity of the three types of firm to use various data-gathering tools.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Booz found that “companies focus on and disproportionately employ the tools that are most closely aligned to their chosen innovation strategy.” In relatively static periods, that’s probably not an issue, but when markets are disrupted, “market readers” and “technology drivers” may have a hard time adjusting.

Using the Booz model, most publishers are probably “market readers”, paying close attention to markets and competitors and (per van Wulfen and Booz) “creating value through incremental innovations.” They certainly aren’t engaged much with readers, a gap being filled by those companies that are.

How we acquire information can affect what we take away from it. Not long ago, for example, many publishers dismissed the significant ramp-up in eBook purchases as “less than 2% of the market.” That’s the voice of firms who monitor the market.

I wonder if they would have had the same reaction if they had been talking to devoted readers who couldn’t imagine how they ever lived without their Kindles.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.