Transformative technologies are often Silent Phoenixes not shooting stars

Google glass

The news that Google Glass is back - albeit in a more sober, enterprise focussed form - is a reminder for those of us who dabble in innovation and futurism, that the progression of emerging technology is much less like the short term glitzy world of fast moving fashion and more like the slow and steady world of engineering [who knew?] than we’d like to think.

The law of the fashion launch is go big, ride the wave and then jump onto the next one, quietly abandoning whatever it was you went big on in the first place. That approach very much exemplified the launch of the consumer focussed v1.0 of Glass- [skydiving anyone?] and was the reason that initially excited and then ired the tech press and Innovation community. The product didn’t at that time live up to the sell.

So we moved on to the next thing - probably 3D Printing, Drones or VR - and consigned Glass to history. We viewed it as a shooting star that created noise and light and then burnt out, never to return.

Google though, didn’t. They’ve being doing what all Innovation people preach, but less so practice, and learning from the trials of the first version of a product to make the second iteration better. It’s become more robust and more suited to the enterprise audience that care much more about function than form. Much more about engineering than fashion.

It’s not by any means the first time a piece of technology has performed this 'Silent Phoenix' trick and been reborn to continue it’s growth, almost without us noticing. Look at FourSquare. We all checked in and thought of loads of ways brands could entice consumers to do the same, then when checking in caused too much friction, we stopped. FourSquare though carried on and has gone to become a behind the scenes, location data powerhouse, under the flight path of our Next Big Thing spotting radar.

These two examples- two of many- point to some interesting lessons agencies and brands should heed about Innovation:

Think technology last

If you focus first on trying to find solutions to problems that consumers want solved and are credible from the brand in question, that can also offer a route to commercial return and only then think about the technology needed to deliver it- broadly how we try and approach things at Karmarama- then you’ll come up with better pilots or tests. That kind of approach means you’ll take more time and care in finding the right technology in the first place and have more courage to stick with it.

Commit to life long learning

Just because a technology or product doesn’t turn out to be the answer to a specific use case or problem, doesn’t mean you should ignore it. It’s tempting to dismiss something after one try- like a child rejecting broccoli- but technology evolves and you need to keep on exploring the opportunities it offers. VR has been around for over one guise or another since the 1950s, so it’s clear dismissing things out of hand is in the long term a bad idea.

Be prepared to be out of fashion

If you do follow a longer term path, rather than chasing short term awards or PR, then you need to be prepared to have some of your tech choices questioned or find a quiet place to think. Google- according to Wired- asked people not to speak about the latest version of Glass, to give the development team time and space away from the all seeing eye of the Tech press, to do just that.

Ultimately the key success metric for Innovation should be the scaling of new products, businesses and services rather than the pure awareness created by first mover advantage. Achieving that success is much more likely to come from a piece of tech you discarded as “old news” last year, that now has scale and robustness, than the one that has just been released to much fanfare.

Just ask Google.

Lawrence Weber is managing partner of Innovation at Karmarama, part of Accenture Interactive

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Lawrence Weber

Lawrence Weber is managing partner at Karmarama.

All by Lawrence