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game changer

Mathieu Weggeman On Game Changers

The Porch invited Mathieu Weggeman to reflect on the notion of game changers in technical innovation. He is professor in organizational science at the University of Technology at Eindhoven in the department of Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences and teaches innovation management

"The notion of game changer", he states, "refers to individuals, original thinkers to come up with earth shaking concepts like the use of light to measure sound. They are the ones to demolish barriers between theories and technologies. But there is more. There are many creative minds looking for what Schumpeter – as early as in 1912 – saw as key in entrepreneurial innovation: Neue Kombinationen, or the merging of technologies to develop products."

Enable innovation

Focusing on the bright individuals, he points out that some organizations create an environment for those originals to flourish. Philips Nat Lab used to be such a place. Many larger companies have their 'rainmakers', 'chief economists', 'fellows' or 'senior scientists'. The Dutch government has its 'Raadsadviseurs'. Also, university professors have this position as Freischwebende Intelligenz.

All these organizations share a dual ladder strategy, providing a career to professionals as experts, not as managers. For professor Weggeman this individuality is really firmly rooted in Western culture. "They are bright, have authority and may change the rules of games, but in our digital age", he continues, "most innovations result from – sometimes unexpected – combinations of technologies and practices. Research supports the idea that environments can be created to stimulate the emergence of these mergers."

Active in the Brainport Eindhoven environment, he sums up: "First of all the environment needs a university – even better: two competing universities – as well as one or more high tech campuses. A financial infrastructure has to be in place with its angel money for start-ups and venture capital for grown-ups. A lively and open cultural climate is also very important. With the Helsinki area as the exception to the rule, it appears that the sun is important. Favorable weather conditions facilitate people to go to work by bike, to sport and enjoy outside leisure, resulting in unplanned meetings with interesting others."

Brainport Eindhoven is a good example for such a lively innovative ecosystem with its University of Technology and University of Applied Sciences, its High Tech Campus, restructured industrial estates for small and medium-sized companies, its Design Academy, and events like Glow and the Dutch Design Week. It appears in the Netherlands Eindhoven has the most receptions and other parties per capita. So these are ample opportunities for the weird encounters to inflame Neue Kombinationen.

Intimacy, excellence, leadership

Further to the work of Michael Porter on competitive advantages, US-researchers Michael Treacy & Fred Wiersema have show that young innovative companies are successful if they score 8 (out of 10) for customer intimacy, operational excellence and for product leadership at the same time.

In most young start-ups responsibility on technology is distributed between its founders and employees. Professor Weggeman shows that the number 3 somehow is apparent in the growth of many companies.

In its incorporation stage often 5 people join forces. With 15 employees a first division of labor becomes evident. With 45 to 50 employees companies often decide to appoint a professional manager, committed only to the management of the company. Companies over 150 employees have divisions or departments. "And that's when the importance of the CTO becomes evident", he concludes. "They are the ones to shape technological innovation and to support the environment for game changers to flourish."

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