Press Release: The Innovation Navigator

Boston-based professors and business experts Tucker Marion and Sebastian Fixson have done with their new book “The Innovation Navigator: Transforming Your Organization in the Era of Digital Design and Collaborative Culture” what business authors have not done in over a decade: written a groundbreaking new book that will change how businesses act.

In The Innovation Navigator, Marion, a Northeastern University Professor, and Sebastian Fixson, a Babson College Professor, explore four innovation archetypes, they call them modes – “specialist,” “venture,” “community,” and “network” – which feature prominently in the expanding innovation landscape. Specialists employ technologies to achieve entirely new solutions and superior product performance. New corporate ventures lower the barriers for employees to self-select into entrepreneurial projects, while reducing the constraints of bureaucracy. The community brings new sources of knowledge by expanding past the firm’s boundaries, dramatically increasing the number of participants. The network creates partnerships and ecosystems that create innovations that could not be developed by individual companies alone.

“The emergence of digital design and a collaborative culture have fundamentally altered how firms, and people, approach the innovation process,” the authors who both started as mechanical engineers wrote. “In the pre–digital design era, most new product and service development was conducted by individuals and organizations holding the relevant expertise, and most collaboration either occurred inside of firms or was governed by market-based transactions between firms. Today, aided by digital design and fabrication tools on the one hand and new forms of collaboration via social networking communities and collaboration/sharing tools on the other, the “innovation landscape” is marked by new forms of participation and ownership, with new participants entering new markets and new arrangements of collective innovation.”

The two major forces – digital design and a collaborative culture – form a “perfect storm” that substantially expands the innovation landscape, and in this new innovation landscape four distinct regions are emerging. Each of these regions calls for its own innovation management approach (i.e., its own innovation modus operandi). Each of these innovation modes comes with different but significant ramifications for users, consumers, communities, vendors, and firms themselves. The locus of expertise is shifting from the human expert to the tools, allowing the experts to push technology frontiers outward in the traditional regions of the new innovation landscape, while enabling non-experts to participate in some activities like never before, especially in the venture and community modes. At the same time, whereas economic transactions will remain the main form of exchange in the traditional regions, they are complemented by social exchanges in the other modes, especially the community mode, with significant challenges for designing incentives and ownership regimes.

The good news, of course, is that this creates an opportunity-rich environment for firms to innovate. The expanded landscape, and the new innovation modes that come with it, create an environment which more ideas of higher quality can seed innovation funnels, where new engineering tools allow the vetting of more mature concepts earlier in the process, where new actors can help develop solutions, and where innovation networks can lower costs and barriers to entry. This means more ideas from more sources, the potential for better ideas, and ways to radically reduce the investment needed to bring them to market. The bad news is that this also creates some new demands and hurdles. Managers need frameworks for navigating and understanding how to harness the power of this new land-scape. In this book the authors attempt to show that there are many opportunities to leverage this new landscape, but all four innovation modes exhibit their challenges. They encourage firms to explore these different modes but to do so with clear expectations and a firm grasp of the risk and reward potential.

“The Innovation Navigator” guides the reader in exploring and exploiting these different modes of innovation. Individual chapters provide key insights into the inherent opportunities and challenges from a number of vantage points: from the impact on organizational resources to the role of incentives. The book also provides a framework for how firms can leverage dynamic mode shifts and multimode strategies. Firms across the industrial spectrum are profiled, from new additive manufacturing companies such as Formlabs, community-based solution providers like Forth, to traditional firms exploring new modes like GE Appliances and their FirstBuild initiative. “The Innovation Navigator” will assist executives in building the capabilities for peak performance in this new innovation landscape.

In the end, the authors developed their frameworks to help managers and executives take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that present themselves in each of the new modes of innovation. In the early chapters, they discuss some history behind the development of the two forces which are expanding the innovation landscape. Then they dive into the individual innovation modes, with an eye toward giving practical advice on how to approach the unique benefits and challenges of each mode. Finally, they discuss how they can use these modes together to great effect.

“In this book, the authors discuss how two forces – digital design and a collaborative culture – are moving us from the pre-digital age into the digital era,” wrote Ric Fulop, Founder and CEO, Desktop Metal, Inc. in the book’s Foreword. “In this new era, these two forces are paving the way for transformative breakthroughs, not only in the speed with which we can prototype, but in the designs themselves and how they are manufactured. These new opportunities will reshape how firms approach design, development, and manufacturing and how they organize themselves and involve others in the process. Cloud-based CAD (computer-aided design) to facilitate distributed collaboration, design optimization via generative design, real-time engineering analysis, increasingly fast and near-net-shaped custom prototyping and production 3D printing, and exponential growth of collaborative communication platforms like Slack are examples of this trend. The pace is breathtaking. We are living in an exciting time, and the res that best implement these new technologies and platforms will have a competitive advantage.

Professor Marion has over twenty years of experience in product design, development and commercialization. Prior to entering academia, Tucker held product development and manufacturing positions in the automotive industry including Visteon Corporation and Ford Motor Company. His expertise centered on bringing electronic systems from business case through manufacturing and production ramp. He has also started or co-founded several start-ups where he led the design, engineering and development products ranging from consumer products to industrial systems. Products where he led the design and development effort have appeared in Popular Science, the New York Times, and others. Tucker has significant expertise in the development of electronic modules, sensors, and systems. He regularly consults with technology firms on improving their innovation processes.

Professor Marion joined Northeastern in 2007, where he developed core graduate courses for the new School of Technological Entrepreneurship. In 2013, he led the development and launch of the new Master’s of Science in Innovation program and currently serves in the following roles: Entrepreneurship & Innovation Group Coordinator for Academic Programs, Director of the Innovation Masters programs, Co-Director of the Institute for Global Innovation Management. His custom executive education classes include design thinking, rapid design and development, corporate entrepreneurship, innovation strategy, and revitalizing organizational growth starting with empowered, entrepreneurial teams.

Sebastian Fixson is Professor of Innovation & Design at Babson College. He also served as the founding Faculty Director of Babson’s Master of Science in Management in Entrepreneurial Leadership (MSEL) program from 2014-2017. Trained as both an engineer and a social scientist, Dr. Fixson concentrates his research work on creating knowledge to help organizations build innovation capabilities. His recent research investigates how innovation performance is impacted through the underlying problem structure, through choices in process governance (open vs. closed innovation), through the use of digital design tools, and through the use of innovation practices such as Design Thinking. Results of his research work flow directly into his teaching and advising activities. Dr. Fixson teaches on the subjects of innovation, design, and operations management to audiences across all programs (Undergraduate, MBA/MS, Executive Education) at Babson and around the world.

Prior to joining the Babson College faculty in 2008, he has taught at the University of Michigan’s Industrial and Operations Engineering department, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and Northeastern University’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship. Dr. Fixson collaborates with industrial partners in various formats, ranging from joint research projects, to teaching, advising and consulting, to speaking engagements. Dr. Fixson’s work has appeared in books and journals such as Concurrent Engineering, Creativity and Innovation Management, Design Management Review, IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, Journal of Operations Management, Journal of Product Innovation Management, MIT Sloan Management Review, Research Policy, Research-Technology Management, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, as well as online outlets such as Harvard Business Review online.

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