When commercialising a new technology managers should remain deliberately unconcerned about the market for it, research led by Goldsmiths, University of London suggests.
Managers who became fixated on target markets for their technology early on were less successful at commercialisation than those who embraced ambiguity about how it might be used, and what value it may provide, researchers found. The findings come from an analysis of early-stage technologies emerging from science laboratories at a leading global research university.
The study also found that successful managers sought out the unvarnished truth about the strengths and weaknesses of their technology by engaging with other technology developers, including potential competitors. Those who only listened to potential end users and market consultants ended up ‘trapped’ in an ideal vision of the market, and would not even change course when confronted with negative feedback.
Dr Sven Molner, Lecturer in Marketing at Goldsmiths and author of the report said: “Searching for a suitable market for a new technology is a bit like raising a child. It may be well-intentioned, but parents should not force their child to take a certain career path. Rather, they should help her discover and develop her talents and skills. The same is true for new technologies.
“Our research suggests that, instead of fixating on markets and end users, technology managers should focus on clarifying and developing the capabilities of the technology first. Suitable markets will then reveal themselves in the process – they emerge almost by themselves.”
The research examined so-called ‘market scoping’ activities carried out by technology managers at a university’s technology transfer office. The researchers analysed a database of project-related email trails and archival records, spanning a total observation time of nearly 28 years, to examine the preferences and decisions of technology managers, and how these may have influenced the success of commercialisation projects.
It might be tempting for managers to follow the ‘visionary’ approach of technology giants such as Apple or Amazon in single-mindedly pursuing a target market, Sven commented. However, if managers lack the huge resources of these firms, this approach is likely to fail. He argues an incremental approach, in which managers leverage the technical competences of external developers, and work collaboratively to uncover the market gradually over time is a better route to commercial success.
A report of the research, entitled 'Lost in a Universe of Markets: Toward a Theory of Market Scoping for Early-Stage Technologies', is published in the Journal of Marketing. The team included researchers from the University of Cambridge and Texas A&M University.
Image: DNA laboratory via Flickr.