This week, my oldest sister is celebrating her 50th birthday. A half century. Wow! She insists that she’s excited for the next phase of life, and I quote, “Fifty is the new forty.” Well, I’ll let you know if 10 or 15 years…
What else that is “old” is really “new”? I encourage you to take a fresh look at your new product pipeline. Many firms get “tunnel vision” in their product portfolios, taking the safe bets – new products that are merely line extensions or modifications – in order to get a quick revenue hit. This is the equivalent of 50 being the new 60!
But, maybe, just maybe, lurking in the deep recesses of the new product portfolio is a “killed” project that could once again see the light of day with a new technology. Steven Spielberg’s vision for Star Wars™ was firm, yet he could not actually achieve the film as he imageduntil technology reached a specific level. Sometimes, like Speilberg, our new product ideas are far ahead of technical capabilities when the idea is generated. However, when technology catches up, this orphaned idea can turn into a spectacular production.
I once worked on a “new” project where a new material was to be added to streamline a particular chemical process. As the story goes, the same additive had been tried 20 years prior but the reactor sprung so many leaks it resembled a backyard sprinkler system. What was “new” in the year 2000 was an understanding of process contaminants and new combinations of metallurgy. Under new assumptions, the project that was killed 20 years earlier had a new opportunity for success since technology had “caught up” with the idea.
Of course, we have to exercise a little caution with the “what was old is new again” philosophy. A few crusty and stubborn old scientists may become fixated on an idea without commercial or technical merit. And, a few unscrupulous managers may fill the pipeline with “old” ideas to meet a target metric of “Number of New Ideas in the Pipeline.” (See our recent white paper on metrics for New Product Development here.) But, if your brainstorming sessions have come to a standstill without breakthrough ideas, try tossing out an “old” idea and see if it can be massaged into something new.
Now, I will truthfully admit I’m not that anxious for my own 50th birthday and its accompanying aches, pains, and gray hair. Yet, I will say that approaching “what is old” with a “what is new” attitude might be just what firms need for innovation in the new year.
P.S. Happy Birthday, Tami!
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