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Scaling innovation to new heights

November 17, 2020

Organizations clearly understand the criticality of innovation in meeting new customer needs, driving new levels of operational performance, and building long-term value and growth. However, these ambitions tend to run into a major obstacle, namely the difficulty of achieving scale with innovations in processes, products, or services. In many of the research surveys conducted by the Capgemini Research Institute, achieving scale is often cited as the number-one barrier to realizing commercial and social goals. And, this challenge is not specific to one sector or one technology.

Efficient innovators also make mistakes. Despite their learning to build routines and competence, there is a possibility they can still get it wrong. Let’s take the example of the bicycle as explained by John Bessant in his blog about scaling innovation. The bicycle was devised in 1817 by Karl von Drais in Germany. He had a clear idea for what he was trying to accomplish – an inexpensive personal conveyance for the common man. Nonetheless, it took additional six decades to make that vision a reality. It is worthwhile to reflect on the bicycle’s history, as it can teach us some valuable lessons about innovation (specifically on how to harness it for impact and scale).

The cycle of innovation

The average person can walk at about 5 km/hour, so covering any long distance is likely to take time and effort. In 1817, von Drais invented the “Laufmaschine” (walking machine), which was also known as the Draisienne. Von Drais had envisioned the potential in his invention, but he didn’t have an appropriate business model with which to make and create value from it. He staged numerous inspiring exhibitions around Europe, to mixed reviews, and once the novelty wore off, the market shrank to include only hobbyists and pleasure seekers. This early bicycle had a huge drawback – you had to push it. It did carry a person faster along roads than they might otherwise have walked along but they still had to put in the work. So, alongside all the other experiments was a big push to find a better power system.

Over the years, a lot of innovators kept improving the initial design of the bicycle as there was plenty of scope and with each new development, the pace of growth accelerated. But moving innovation to scale involves building systems, not just creating components. If you aim to achieve a win from an innovation such as a bicycle, you need to get together pieces of the puzzle into a workable arrangement. It requires a location where you can build an initial market, access to technology and expertise, an agile distribution and support network (warehousing and inventory), an ability to produce at scale – and a big investment. So, if it’s going to take a considerable amount of time to move to scale.

When an innovation succeeds

If a new idea is to have an impact – commercially or socially – then it needs to move to scale. People must adopt it in large numbers, the ideas need to spread, and the concepts diffuse. And it’s here, on the journey to scale, that we find several roadblocks, hurdles, and other obstacles to long-term innovation success. It’s not an easy feat. The Museum of Failure has around 100 exhibits and there are a lot more that haven’t even made it into the museum. This isn’t surprising at all as we’re accustomed to concealing failure rather than learn from it. But if we try to understand what has gone wrong, we might have a better chance of succeeding the next time we set out on the journey.

It takes time, so there is an inevitable need for a strategy. Timescales remain stubbornly long, even as technology lifecycles shorten. In case it’s going to take time to move to scale, one needs to do more than just concentrate on innovation. One needs to have a long-term strategy, a plan for how it will unfold and emerge in future.

To sum up, many companies have successfully developed an innovation engine to generate and incubate new ideas, from innovation centers to open ecosystems. However, successfully scaling the resulting innovations remains a challenge, with efforts undermined by a host of issues ranging from an over-reliance on technology to a lack of focus on what customers want. By treating the achievement of scale as a specific and unique discipline, putting in place the right governance, and building a culture that encourages scale, companies can achieve scale with a speed and certainty that a competitor will struggle to match. In turn, enterprise proficiency in scaling innovation can be the source and driver of a sustained competitive advantage.


Get in touch with us to engage with our innovation experts to address the enterprise competencies, the means, the behaviours, the barriers, and the enablers to apply innovation.

And don’t forget to register for our upcoming LinkedIn Live where I will be joined by a panel of experts to discuss ­­­­­­­scaling innovation and answer question such as when most innovations fail to scale how do we reap the benefits of big ideas?