January 16, 2018
by Chris Curran
Someone has already come up with the idea that will transform your business—or destroy it. You just have to find it.
Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain might be dominating the headlines, but in reality, they may feel far off from the day-to-day activities of your business. Even so, every leader should make emerging technology part of his or her daily routine. Emerging tech is unique in its power to disrupt any business more rapidly than imaginable, and proactively scouting emerging tech might be the key to discovering the Next Big Thing.
The trouble is that, for most businesses, scouting isn’t easy. As wave after wave of powerful technologies disrupt industries and remake the old ways of doing business, companies typically find themselves ill prepared. When PwC surveyed business leaders, 59 percent said they actively engaged with external sources to gather new ideas for applying emerging technologies. That’s not a bad number, but the sources they use are hardly inspiring. The biggest sources for scouting—industry analysts, competitive intelligence, and engagement with vendors—are simply unlikely to uncover any truly remarkable technologies. On the flip side, less than 10 percent of those surveyed scout true hubs of innovation, such as incubators and university labs.
Scouting technologies and trends
How do you scout emerging technology effectively? Big ideas won’t passively come to you. You must seek them out yourself. And note that the scouting is not just about emerging technologies. It’s also about scouting new trends that are relevant to your business. For example, the AI revolution is already here. But how are AI algorithms evolving to create new products and technologies within that industry?
All of this can require some unorthodox thinking. In fact, surfacing the most exciting ideas requires the deepest amount of digging. Here’s a quick primer of top sources:
- Accelerators and incubators: Of the sources on this list, accelerators and incubators are the nearest-term sources. But they’re critically important because once a technology reaches this point, it’s on the fast track to commercialization and you don’t have much time left to scout it. PwC has worked with Techstars to keep an eye on promising projects. Other accelerators having a massive impact are Y Combinator and 500 Startups. Get involved to keep your finger on the pulse of essential startups.
- University relationships: Some of today’s most vital tech firms—from Facebook to Google—emerged from universities and student projects, so if you want to spot these trends early, you’ll need to go back to school. At PwC, we partner with Carnegie Mellon to identify promising research projects, and we’ve developed the Flying Start Technology Degree Apprenticeship program in the UK to help cultivate the next generation of tech leaders. Both projects have paid huge dividends.
- Mentoring programs: You can mentor anywhere technology is being explored, whether that is at an accelerator or at your local high school. I spent a month mentoring my son’s FIRST Robotics team and left with a deeper understanding of technology than I’d ever be able to get from reading the daily news.
- Crowdfunding efforts: It’s easy to forget that entire product categories—the smartwatch, accessible 3-D printing—got their start on crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Put up some cash for the projects that interest you. Most require a tiny investment, but in return, they provide excellent access to truly exciting, new ideas.
- Open source initiatives: From the Apache web server to the WordPress content management system, open source development has driven some of the most important and impactful software initiatives the world has ever seen. Countless publications are devoted to tracking open source, but to really get your hands dirty you’ll need to dig into development platforms like GitHub and SourceForge.
- Science fiction and video games: Books, movies, TV, and video games aren’t just for fun—and you can tell your spouse as much when you’re accused of wasting time. Forward-thinking authors and directors have a knack for predicting the future—decades ahead of their ultimate reality. Consider how Star Trek’s holodeck augured today’s virtual reality (VR) tools or how Minority Report predicted the rise of facial recognition technology. It doesn’t take long for the “wild” ideas of yesteryear to become things we take for granted. Don’t miss the boat.