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We probably all understand that if you gave a child £10 and told them to simply ‘go shopping’… they’d come back with things that they find interesting, but unlikely to have very much nutritional value, novelty stickers, strange coloured chewy sweets etc. A great experience but a waste of £10? I’ll give you another shopping example – My wife recently asked me to shop for ingredients for Sunday lunch for us and four guests. I happily agreed, and we defined the choice of chicken, in preference to beef.

Oh Yes.. this was going to be straightforward and I knew she’d be very pleased with me. It was the ‘and can you pick something up for dessert too’ that then started to cause the problem… I really like desserts, and I first thought about my personal preferences, but.. did she want a hot or cold dish? The panic was slowly starting to set in. A large pre-made to share, or individual portions? Savoury, fruit, chocolate, dairy?? …And who’s coming to Lunch anyway? Do they eat nuts, does anyone have food allergies, sensitive teeth, teeth generally? Should I phone a friend for a second opinion? Hero to zero in one course …

So now you understand the discipline of desserts, or rather tech scouting. Companies historically have assumed their scouts’ prior experience and capabilities will most certainly deliver great results. But, going out without a map or list aligned to the needs and requirements of whom you serve, has proved frustrating, wasted valuable budget and resulted in disengagement in the process altogether.

As a result of this, some companies abandoned Tech Scouting and indeed Open Innovation completely, whereas others recognised its potential and adapted internal processes to make it work.

A large consumer electronics company spent the first five years with a central scouting team with their own budget, charged with“seek and go find”. The outcome was less than 20% of the ideas andtechnologies found were utilised in projects. This lead to frustrated Scouts and disillusioned executives and a business wholly sceptical about the OI journey.

Rather than abandoning OI, the business changed its approach, still maintaining a central team butthey moved budgets to business units so that any technology scouting activity would beunderpinned with a fundamental business need.

Now 60/70% of the gathered ideas end up in projects.

Happy Scouts and happy business.

This is great, but to do technology scouting properly, scouts need to not only seek what is required but also identify new trends and technologies, not yet in the company focus – finding the right dessert, to continue that analogy. How long should I look for what is required and how long to lookfor the new? A real conundrum.

To help with this, a global food company introduced the concept of Hunting and Fishing.

80% of the time there should be very specific Hunting requirements e.g. Buy Bread, brown, and no more than £2. Therefore you choose where you go to get it, giving the Latitude for experience andknowledge – mass-produced, bakery, artisan, etc. This is looking for what the business can define and using your internal and external network to find it.

20% of the time Fish for more speculative requirements that the business doesn’t know that it needs yet. Look for technology trends that could form part of a roadmap into the future. Again, you would use your network, but perhaps the outer reaches of that network, rather than the core?

This approach has been identified by many companies as a way of helping Technology Scouts to manage their time and focus.

By Sean M Warren BSc

Sean has worked with global organisations to help them embed sustainable innovation systems in their businesses by building best-in-class process, drawn from global benchmarking activities.