When Did Innovation Catch On?

When Did Innovation Catch On?
Innovation is at the top of everyone’s agenda these days. Why? Because the executive mindset changed markedly in the 1990s. Global competition, the internet, and the onslaught of more than 40,000 product launches each year all helped change a lot of minds.

Transformative conversations about modern innovation arose from bestselling books published in the 1980s and 1990s. Peter Drucker’s 1985 “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” was a pioneering text that defined entrepreneurship and the constant search for innovative ideas.

But it was the 1996 release of James Utterback’s “Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation” and Harvard professor Clayton Christensen’s 1997 “The Innovator’s Dilemma” that put innovation in the spotlight.

Christensen’s book challenged companies to predict consumer needs and adopt new technologies and business models to address new requirements. It was widely read and changed the way managers and industry leaders thought about innovation.

A McKinsey survey shows just how much the “C” suite pivoted on the question of wanting to become a “category innovation leader.” In 1993, 37% of executives surveyed reported wanting to become an innovation leader, while 26% wanted to remain a “follower.” By 1999 no one wanted to be a follower and 95% wanted to lead the innovation pack:

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The year of 1999 was, of course, the peak of dot-com mania, a period that saw dizzying valuations ascribed to technology innovators. The insanity may have faded but as the table below pointedly illustrates, the value of innovation is unassailable:

2006/2016 Comparison of Five largest U.S. Companies by Market Cap

Type199019941998200220032005200820122016
Entry Practitioners1.0M1.2M9.5M10.0M
Core Practitioners3.0M5.0M9.0M18.0M
Total Practitioners4.0M6.2M18.5M28.0M15.0M16.5M15.8M20.4M36.7M
1990, 1994 Roper Starch; Jun-98 Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll; 16-Jun-03, 07-Feb-05 Harris Interactive Service Bureau; 05-Dec-12 Sports Marketing Surveys USA; 13-Jan-16 IPSOS Public Affairs.

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Michael Tchong
Michael Tchong
Michael Tchong is a professional people watcher and founder of four ahead-of-the-wave startups. He’s also a top-rated innovation and trends speaker, and an adjunct professor of innovation and social media at the University of San Francisco and UC Berkeley.