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The Innovation Cycle: Where Are We?

(December 2009) posted on Tue Nov 24, 2009

Invention extension? Functional substitution? Find out what these concepts mean and how they apply to the screen-printing industry.

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By Mark A. Coudray

The average person thinks small. They don’t like change and they don’t like a disruption in their established daily routine. Business as usual is their operating mode, and they don’t want anyone messing with it. They say embracing every new idea that comes down the road is time consuming and risky. By challenging new ideas and inventions, they can hopefully nip it in the bud or squash it before it has a chance to affect them. Weak invention perishes under these conditions; true invention is unhindered.

True inventors couldn’t care less what the general public thinks. They’re after those people in the population who will see the value in what they’re proposing and will embrace it. Historically, this is 2-5% of the general market or population. These people are the innovators—the ones who embrace the cutting or bleeding edge before anyone else does. They tend to stick together because they all speak the same language, and they’re particularly open-minded and excited about the things with which they’re involved. This is one of the reasons cults get started: There’s relative intellectual safety in numbers, as well as obsession with seeing particular ideas become reality.
Most innovation and invention dies in this phase as the innovators try to make the transition to the general mainstream. 

Invention extension
The lifecycle blossoms in this phase, and this is where digital imaging is today in our industry. It’s the expansion and growth phase of the idea or culture and where the mainstream begins to venture into the market and make the purchase. The screen-printing industry can appreciate this as they make collateral purchases of digital imaging equipment to complement their traditional printing methods. It’s definitely established in the graphics side and is about to make a big leap on the textile side.

If an idea or technology can make it into the invention-extension phase, there’s a really good chance it’ll be hugely successful. As an example, look at the failure of Apple Computer’s Newton PDA. It was introduced too early and only gained limited acceptance among the geeky gadget gurus before dying. The Palm Pilot eventually established a foothold and was the precursor to the modern smart phone.


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