Presented by Wits Business School (WBS)

Managing technological innovation – The new imperative

As we navigate our way through the fourth industrial revolution, the term ‘disruption’ has become commonplace in business, industry and academia.

And although there are subtle differences between ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’, the two are often seen as one and the same thing.

Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen, who was the first to coin the term ‘disruptive innovation’, describes the process as: “a product or service taking root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market, and then relentlessly moving up market, eventually displacing established competitors”.

It is a process which both destructive and creative.

However, this is not a new concept: back in the 1950s Joseph Schumpeter (co-incidentally also a Harvard professor) popularised the concept of creative destruction in business.

According to Schumpeter, “creative destruction is the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one”.

It is on the basis of this ‘Schumpeterian’ worldview that Wits Business School (WBS) developed its Master of Management (MM) the field of Innovation Studies.

Dr Diran Soumonni, Senior Lecturer in Innovation Management and Policy at WBS, explains: “Long-term economic growth and development in the modern world are driven by technological change and this in turn affects every country, society – every one of us.”

He notes that within the last 50 years, the world has seen a dramatic increase in the pace of science and technology-intensive innovation, not least fuelled by the ICT sector, with a growing list of disruptive technologies that continuously create new markets and challenge existing companies.

“In addition, the imperative to respond to climate change and other pressures on human civilisation has meant that there is increasing attention to environmental sustainability and producing solutions that respond to these concerns,” he says.

Soumonni’s focus as a researcher and educator is not so much on innovation for the sake of innovation, but on managing the innovation process for optimum long-term socio-economic benefits.

“Countries, societies and companies are responding very differently [to innovation], with those having a better understanding of patterns of innovation being more equipped with the mind-set and the tools to benefit in the long term,” he says.

The MM in Innovation Studies, the first of its kind in Africa, is WBS’s response to the need, especially in the field of science and technology, to understand and investigate innovation from the perspective of emerging markets.

“There is an urgent need to build capacity to manage innovation policy, strategy and practice. This will require a generation of innovation managers, scholars, and business leaders who have an understanding of the drivers of innovation, and a concern for equitable, human-centred development,” says Soumonni.

Innovation is an ecosystem involving different stakeholders at every level. Many new technology-based firms rely on the direct support and enabling environment by government, at municipal, provincial and national level.

“This is why,” says Soumonni, “if emerging economies are to be successful in competing effectively with more advanced economies in a globalised marketplace, they need sound innovation strategies and policies in place that stimulate sustainable economic growth.”

For more information, visit the WBS website.

This article was published in partnership with Wits Business School (WBS).

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Managing technological innovation – The new imperative