By Rajiv Ramaratnam, SDM ‘07 In my first year as an SDM student, I took two courses that offered different perspectives on how companies can address innovation.
The first, "Innovation in the Marketplace," introduced radical views. Instructor Eric von Hippel proposed that innovation today is driven primarily by customers vs. manufacturers. By this, von Hippel believes that the user often finds a way to use a product that the manufacturer did not anticipate. These 'lead users,' the first to use a new product or technology, often tend to be the most creative innovators for an existing product. Von Hippel argued that companies must find ways to involve the user community early and encourage them to put the product to new uses.
For example, when Lego first introduced its Robotics 'Mindstorms' kits to the market, it primarily targeted teens and high school students. However, groups of older users began to create varieties of software for the kit, bypassing the basic software tools that came with it. This created a new set of consumers, in a market segment that Lego had not initially anticipated.
The second class I took was: "Disruptive Technologies: Predator or Prey?" taught by Professor James Utterback. He theorized that when a company introduces a new product in the marketplace, new entrants enter its market causing increased competition. Soon a "dominant design" takes shape and becomes the standardized, acceptable way to build the product.
To illustrate, Professor Utterback traced the history of the light bulb. Although many competitors arrived on the scene when Edison first introduced it, his superior filament design won over the others and became a dominant design for the modern day light bulb.
These courses have not only offered me fresh insights into industry trends and innovation, like those above, but also to practical steps I can take to add value to my future employer. For example, I can design and develop a marketing plan to build a user community around a freshly launched product. I could also help spot or push a dominant design for a recently introduced product and thus help my company corner a certain segment of the marketplace.
These are just a few of the many ideas for product development and strategy that are taught in the SDM program to help its students differentiate themselves, and add value to their respective corporations.