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Six games innovators play

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Innovation is serious stuff, but Roger Miller and Marcel Côté of the Montreal-based strategy firm Secor Group believe we can also view innovation as a game.

In their new book, Innovation Reinvented, they say that innovation, like hockey, has a context (the market in which the action transpires); ground rules that determine how people compete in that market; and certain competencies (nimbleness, technology, product management, economies of scale, alliances and partnerships) that can lead to success.

They outline six games of innovation that strategists (and readers of business pages) need to be alert to:

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Eureka!

This game involves the development of a new market for a standalone product. It's probably the one we most have in mind when we think of innovation: an entrepreneurial inventor takes advantage of technological evolution to target an unmet need.

Competition is attracted, which the entrepreneur must beat back and figure out how to build the company through various stages. "Eureka! games strike the imagination," the authors note. "Although these games represent only a small share of overall economic activity, most of today's industries have emerged from Eureka! games."

Battles of architecture

This is a new game, but may soon be the dominant one, the consultants feel, as open systems are built around platforms to which an indefinite number of "modules" can be attached. Microsoft won a battle of architecture when it became the dominant supplier of operating systems for the personal computer: Software companies needed to be on that platform to be viable. Apple, Research In Motion and Google are now vying to become the dominant platform for smartphones.

System breakthroughs

This game involves an expert company mastering a particular technology and applying it to a demanding customer's problem in a way that leads to a breakthrough, which is then passed on to all companies by the innovator. It's a research-and-development-intensive game, in which proprietary technology is developed that can then be commercialized more broadly. Example: In the early 1990s, French aircraft manufacturer Dussault worked with Toyota to revolutionize the way car engines were made.

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New and improved

If this sounds like a Procter & Gamble catchphrase, it is, since that company is adept at continuous development in the marketplace through differentiating its products – even slightly – from competitors, and reducing costs. The game is found in many different markets, and helps maintain a loyal customer base while sidestepping the intense price competition that can occur when competitors offer the same product.

Mass customization

Companies such as Wal-Mart and Toyota play this game, managing thousands of suppliers to deliver continuously improved benefits to various end users with differing needs. This approach will gain importance as information technology penetrates the economy, the authors stress.

Pushing the envelope

Engineers, architects and designers incorporate the latest available systems into major projects done for industry or government. They push the envelope with each new capital investment project, but do so in closed systems so the direct benefits are for the specific customer. But they bring us improved societal infrastructure, whether for bridges, communications systems, back-office operations at financial institutions, or Google's computer farms.

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Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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