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IDE Researchers Document the Unpredictability of Radical Innovation

September 20, 2023

Businesses are eager to fund projects with defined outcomes and finite timelines. In reality, researchers find that the innovation process is usually more messy—and often more rewarding over time.

“Ideas that at first appear to simply be an interesting leap, a next step in product development, or a combination of known technologies can turn out to have more radical impacts,” according to three researchers writing in MIT Sloan Management Review this month. “As such technologies are incubated both the company and the broader market learn more about them. Unanticipated use cases emerge and, in many instances, are far afield from those that were originally imagined, perhaps leveraging different characteristics of the technology or different business models.”

The new article, Unleash the Unexpected for Radical Innovation, by MIT IDE post-doctoral associate, Wenjing Lyu, Babson College Professor Gina Colarelli O’Connor, and MIT IDE research group leader, Neil C. Thompson, explains the unpredictability of innovation and the benefits that can result—especially from internal R&D efforts.

Their advice? Remain open to possibilities:

“When companies are laser-focused on finding a technological solution for a known problem, they tend to ignore the unanticipated signals of enthusiasm that come from internal and external markets.”

Read the full report here.


Neil Thompson




Wenjing Lyu