Five tips for effective technology scouting

Dear {subscriber_first_name}

Recently I’ve been studying how research minded companies go about finding new technologies. A common way these companies identify new technologies is through technology scouting, where researchers are encouraged to look outside of their own organisation for interesting new technologies which might be relevant to their company in future. You may even be aware of technology scouting taking place in your own organisation. Done well, technology scouting can connect a business to differentiating new technologies and capabilities, enabling massive opportunities for growth and increased profit. In my experience, however, many companies don’t get a good enough return from technology scouting, sometimes even discontinuing the activity altogether. Here are five tips to help you get more from your technology scouting work:

1. Spend time to understand the context of the research problem you are addressing. To help expose the higher level outcomes that your organisation seeks, ask “why?” you need to solve the problem stated. When you have identified these higher level outcomes ask “how?” to clarify alternative problem statements which could address the higher level need. Explore the benefits of taking other routes to achieve your top level objectives. Are there some easier, quicker ways to realise the benefits your company is seeking? Do you need to solve more than one problem to get the benefit for your company? Understanding the hierarchy of your problem situation is a very powerful first step towards selecting the “right problem” to work on.

2. Think about the scope of the solution you want to find. Inevitably, in a research activity, you may encounter a range of potential technologies, some of which will be revolutionary and some of which will be evolutionary. Technology researchers are often attracted to revolutionary solutions but most companies favour an evolutionary approach which enables them to continue to use most of their existing product and process technologies. If in doubt, start your research by scouting for evolutionary technology solutions where as little change as possible is needed. Pragmatically, if you can solve your problem without really changing the physics of your current product or process, it is likely that your solution will be quicker and cheaper to implement.

3. Define your research requirements in terms of the primary function you want to deliver. Avoid describing specific technological solutions when preparing your research brief because this will limit you to a very limited potential range of ways to achieve the function you want. Functional thinking is particularly important when you want to connect with technologies from parallel industries. Remember, as products and processes develop and evolve, solutions change but functions stay the same.

4. Use the concept of the Ideal Technical System to focus your research and evaluate your results. The concept of an Ideal Technical System describes a system where the required function is fully delivered without producing any harmful functions and without incurring any cost. Thinking in terms of solutions which take us towards an Ideal Technical System helps to unlock limitations we may place on the solutions we seek and keeps us on a path where the solutions we select are often better in all respects than the solutions we already have.

5. Don’t be put off when you find a new technology or solution which gives rise to fresh problems when you try to embed it into your current systems and technologies. It is almost inevitable that the introduction of a new technology will give rise to secondary problems which will also need to be solved. Use TRIZ (Russian Acronym for “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving”) to help you identify compromise free solutions to these problems. Often it is the solutions to your secondary problems which open up the potential for your true breakthroughs.

Click here to find out more about how CoCatalyst approaches technology scouting.

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