A method for discovering game-changing innovations

Rather than trying to discover "the next killer app", the goal here is to discover game-changing innovations that are beginning to happen here and now. Typically, breakthrough innovations happen gradually, then suddenly. The goal here is to discover them while they are still in the "gradually" phase.
A game-changing innovation does any of the following in your business: it makes something obsolete, it makes something work an order of magnitude better, or it enables something entirely new.
If you'd like to read more background on game-changing innovations, please check out our blog article. In this article, we’ll show you how to improve your chances of discovering breakthrough innovations early on.

Please bear in mind that you may have to adjust the method to your specific needs. What’s below should not be seen as axioms, but rather as guidelines.

Here is the method:

1. Write down your goal

By "goal", we mean what triggers you to look for game-changing innovations. Here are some examples, from our blog article on discovering game-changing innovations:

  • I want to make machine learning 10x less energy-intensive.
  • I want to improve setup and operations effectiveness of my power grid by an order of magnitude.
  • I want to be able to read a book or watch a movie while riding in my car, without getting sick.

You should write down your goal because...

  • ...writing down the goal enforces clarity.
  • ...a goal that's written down is easier to share and discuss with colleagues.

Try to keep your goal description short, 2-3 sentences maximum.

2. Divide your goal into sub-topics

A good tactic is using first principles thinking here.
You can refer to  Mergeflow's set of emerging technologies for additional input.

3. Do 360° searches for each of your sub-topics

You can use our 360° search checklist for guidance.
Focus on the following data sets initially:

(a) Venture capital investments

Venture investments are great for discovering market-relevant innovations early on.

(b) Markets

Context markets in particular are useful for discovering new applications.

(c) Technology blogs

Tech blogs often write about possible future scenarios. In addition, they are usually written for a more general audience. So they are an interesting source of ideas in areas outside your core expertise. 

(d) Public R&D funding

Public R&D funding often goes to innovative, early-stage companies. In particular, focus on SBIR fundings. SBIR typically funds individual companies. This makes it a lot easier to pinpoint where an innovation comes from. In contrast, EU CORDIS typically funds large consortia of companies and research organizations. This often makes it difficult to discern who really does the innovative work in the consortium.

4. Evaluate your findings

Depending on the nature of a finding, you could ask different questions:

If you find a company:

  • What can their technology do?
  • What is their business model and their pricing?
  • Can you find anyone there to contact?

If you find a technology:

(A technology could be a scientific publication, for example.)

  • How could you implement the technology in your context?
  • What can the technology do in your context that you cannot do otherwise?

If you find a business model innovation:

Would any of your services have to be "productized" in order to make the model work?

5. Follow new developments within and across your topics

Include topics that did not return much in your 360° search because...

You can use Mergeflow's Weekly360 email update service to automate this continuous monitoring.

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