How to Become the Next Big Thing in Innovation

Want to become the next “big thing” in your industry? Author and tech expert Larry Downes says it’s getting both easier—and harder.

And if you want to know how, that’s possible. Downes says to look no further than the technology industry, which is experiencing disruptions virtually overnight.

Downes, co-author of the new book Big Bang Disruption: Strategy in the Age of Devastating Innovation, says the news is great for innovators, and scary for established players who may be struggling to keep up.

“In the gaming and computer industries, the shift is coming out tomorrow,” Downes says. “For more stable and regulated industries, the shift takes a bit longer. So when the change comes, it will be that much more dramatic—even people in stable industries have to be more worried.”

He cites Twitter as a major disrupter, and an example of how a new idea can explode onto the scene and quickly be adopted by users across the globe. Entrepreneurs and innovators today must learn to think and produce in a new manner, he says.

“[Co-author Nunes] and I had been working at the intersection of disruption and innovation, and we noticed the shape of innovation and the way markets are shaped was changing,” he says. “The information out there about building a business not only didn’t apply anymore, but it almost became counter-productive.”

So how does an innovator go about building something that will disrupt an industry, and hopefully last? Here are the four stages Downes says you need to be ready for:

Stage 1: The Singularity

This is all about conducting early-market experiments, Downes says.

“The new model of innovation is based on a lot of experimentation, with off-the-shelf component parts,” he says. “Today there is better and cheaper technology. We are seeing that innovators can put stuff together and launch it, and using crowdfunding they can work with actual customers.”

This is a very low-cost and low-risk way to build a brand, he says.

Stage 2: The Big Bang

This is the stage of catastrophic success, Downes says, when the launch begins.

“Like Twitter, when everyone liked it and the entire market adopted it,” he says. “This is when every consumer knows about your innovation, and you can go from zero to a million customers.”

This is when companies scale up quickly, he says.

Stage 3: The Big Crunch

This stage is when the market becomes saturated, and means your brand can fall apart quickly.

“You got success early, and think it will go on forever,” Downes says. “You will hit saturation quickly, and you should get out while you can.”

Monitor trends and realize when the tide is shifting so you can make a move at the right time, he says, and avoid becoming an industry “dinosaur.”

Stage 4: Entropy 

The U.S. Postal Service is a great example of a company that didn’t get out in time, Downes says.

“You get stuck selling the same products to a smaller group of customers,” he says. “These businesses are trapped because they are forced to continue offering products that no one wants.”