Corporate Giants to Lead Next Wave of World-Changing Innovation

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Harvard Business Review article by Innosight’s Scott Anthony introduces fourth era of innovation.

The next world-changing innovations will come from big businesses – not necessarily NGOs or venture capital-backed start-ups. That’s what Scott Anthony of the strategy and innovation consulting firm Innosight argues in the September issue of Harvard Business Review. In “The New Corporate Garage,” the magazine’s “Big Idea” feature, Anthony makes the case that the world is entering its “fourth era of innovation” – where big companies are shifting from shackling innovation to enabling it.

Anthony, managing director of Innosight, Asia-Pacific, sets the stage for his argument by describing the evolution of innovation: beginning with lone inventors such as Edison and Gutenberg, progressing to the heroes in corporate labs such as Procter & Gamble, and leading to the innovators ejected from companies who banded together to form new businesses and VC-backed start-ups. According to Anthony, the revolution spurred by the start-ups and VCs decades ago has paved the way for the corporate giants of a new, “fourth era” to take charge.

“It’s early days still, but the evidence is compelling that we are entering a new era of innovation, in which entrepreneurial individuals, or ‘catalysts,’ within big companies are using corporate resources, scale and growing agility to produce difficult-to-replicate innovations to global challenges that few others can,” says Anthony.

The ease of innovation, acceptance of open innovation and less hierarchal management practices by bigger businesses are among the trends influencing the shift. Drawing from examples such as Unilever’s “Pureit” water filtration program, Syngenta’s “Uwezo” crop protection program and Medtronic’s Healthy Heart For All initiative, Anthony shows how big companies are tapping into their “corporate garages,” or compilation of resources, to launch transformational, difficult-to-replicate innovations.

“Big companies are powerfully and uniquely suited to tackle large-scale social problems such as hunger, health care, sustainability and education,” Anthony writes. “These aren’t stand-alone corporate social responsibility efforts – they are strategic initiatives to create profitable businesses that improve the world.”

Noting that the fourth era of innovation is influencing all parties to reevaluate their part in generating innovation, he concludes: “The people changing the world today are as likely to be in corporate cubicles and conference rooms as in Silicon Valley or at social-impact conferences.”

About Innosight
Innosight is a strategy and innovation consulting firm that helps clients achieve growth through innovation. It partners with organizations to help them devise growth strategies, build innovation capabilities, implement business model innovation and create breakthrough new products, business, and services. Innosight has offices in Boston, Singapore and India.

About Scott Anthony
Scott Anthony is the managing director, Innosight Asia-Pacific, where he leads the firm’s Asian operations. A frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, he maintains a regular column at and recently released his fourth book, The Little Black Book of Innovation: How It Works, How to Do It through Harvard Business Review Press.


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