Wide Lens by Ron Adner
Ron Adner had developed a very practical model that explains the
following odd fact: Some great innovations succeed and some great
the difference is not explained by poor execution or by poor customer
take-up. The difference lies in having too narrow a view of what it
takes to make a great innovation succeed.
case studies presented by Adner explain the problem and the solution.
invented the radial tyre in 1946 and revolutionized the industry. In
1992 they came up with the next big innovation, a tyre you can ride
on flat for 200 kilometres at 88 kph! The benefits to the customer
would be huge. The danger caused by a blow-out would be eliminated as
you could drive as if nothing has happened. You will not need to stop
to change a flat tire on a dark road late at night. You would not
need to carry a spare and tools, which would provide more boot space.
brilliant it met all the problems that had plagued previous efforts
to achieve a ride-flat tyre. To support adoption by the industry,
Michelin co-opted competitors to this new technology by licensing the
technology to them.
co-opted garage owners who were enthusiastic about repairing run-flat
twenty year later, where is it?
answer is that it failed despite Michelin doing everything right.
Consumers were prepared to pay a small premium to avoid danger and
the inconvenience of a flat, but they were not prepared to pay
hundreds of dollars to replace the whole mechanism. They were forced
to replace the whole mechanism because there were not enough garages
that could do the repair.
garages were never a factor in new tyre launches, but that would not
be the case with this run-flat tyre. Their staff would have to be
retrained and new equipment would have to be purchased. They were not
prepared to do this until there was a large enough demand, and there
couldn’t be a large enough demand until they retrained their staff
and equipped their workshops.
an innovation to work in a deeply sophisticated, integrated economy
requires more than just managing your innovation. Now innovations
require the management of the innovation ecology, a view that
requires the “wide lens” of the book’s title.
types of risks to innovation are identified by Adner: Co-innovation
risk and Adoption Chain risk.
Motorola came out with the DynaTAC 8000x in 1983, it was the world’s
first handheld, cellular phone. It required 10 hours of charging to
support 30 minutes of talking and talking was all you could do. It
was bulky and expensive, and based on an analogue network.
second generation, 2G was based on a digital signal and was capable
of transmitting voice as well as small amounts of data – Short
Message Services (SMS). Most importantly it was affordable, sparking
the world-wide explosion of the cell-phone industry. Nokia needed
some innovation to spark the next world-wide explosion because the
market for 2G was not too far from saturation.
solution was 3G which extended the phone into a portable Internet
device capable of keeping you constantly connected. You would be able
to do the basics, such as emailing, but also the more complex –
viewing video, receiving TV broadcasts, and a host of other exotic
the first 3G phones came onto the market, they had the capacity to do
all this, but consumers simply experienced them as a more expensive
2G phone. The problem was that the partners required to supply the
content were not there yet!
an innovation is dependent on the innovation of others, the success
question changes from “Can they do it?” to “When can they do
it?” The co-invention risk is a function of the risk each external
contributor has of not completing their portion. If each co-inventor
has an 85% chance of successfully delivering their portion and there
are four of these co-inventors on which you depend, the probability
of all succeeding is not 85%, but a terrifying 52%.
challenge for the innovator is to identify this co-innovation risk
and to manage it. Deploying resources to mitigate their risk might
well be a better investment than reinforcing your part of the
last point was critical to mitigation of the second risk, the
adoption chain risk, in the case study used as an example of this
risk by the author, Adner.
movie industry in the ‘90’s was distributing their wares in
analogue format – canisters of film that had to be copied, shipped
and then shipped back. The format was not only inferior to digital,
but many, many times more expensive.
distributor could reproduce the movies in digital format. The first
commercial digital projectors were available. The studios could
convert film into digital format. The format would allow the viewers
to have a better cinema experience and opened up the possibility of
3D movies. It was all positive, but despite this by 2006 only 4% of
US cinema screens were showing digital movies.
problem lay in the adoption chain. The movie makers would benefit.
The distributors would benefit. The digital projectors makers would
benefit. The cinema patrons would benefit. However, the cinema owners
would not. They would have to make a hefty investment in this new
technology with no chance of deriving more revenue to off-set it.
any part of the adoption chain stands to lose, not gain, from an
innovation, the chances of success are at great risk.
the industry’s credit they formulated a mechanism whereby the
cinema owner would be assisted in buying the new digital projectors
out of a portion of the savings that would accrue from the
distribution of the movies in digital format. Four years later 40% of
cinemas were screening digital movies.
book is not a disguised form of advanced project management. It is a
long overdue insight into why great innovations fail and the
formulation of a method to address it. The basis of the method is
“the wide lens,” a view of innovation that encompasses the whole
innovation ecology. The value of the book lies in the many tools it
offers to address the two risks described above through the 3G and
digital movie cases.
book is well worth a read because it applies to internal innovation
as obviously as it does to innovation beyond the company walls.
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Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy