The O/N Windows – Will you lead or do you follow?


Opportunity Necessity lifecycle chart

This chart does generalise a little, as every technology develops differently and has an inception-to-release timescale that is unique to it, however, it represents the relative position and timing of the different phases, especially the Opportunity and Necessity windows in any successful, important technology. You will notice that the Hype Cycle is both effected by and effects the O/N windows. The chart also ends deliberately prematurely and fails to show the continuing growth of the Necessity window, which, with important technologies, grows exponentially to dwarf this part of the chart.


For a relatively short time during the lifecycle of inception, development, alpha/beta testing and final release of a technology (software or hardware), there is a window of opportunity for us as technologists. Here I will use the example of a single technology, however, in real life an existing technology often goes into an additional window of opportunity due to the creation of another, newer, symbiotic technology coming into it’s own window of opportunity. No one technology is the solution to everything. It’s how we combine new and existing technologies to solve existing problems that creates innovation. That’s why things like Big data and Public APIs are filled with such exciting potential (but that’s another post).

This opportunity period is the time during which a technology starts to gain visibility amongst technologists in terms of it’s potential. It’s usually not yet mature enough to be commercially viable. In software it is often enabled by developer program API availability and beta testing programs. If you are suitably aware of the technology landscape around you, you will recognise a foetal technology’s possibilities and potential at this early stage.

Truly innovative technologies are held back almost entirely by the fact that they have not yet been successfully prototyped and blogged enough. This is the Opportunity Window and it closes quickly. In Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve, this is everything pre-chasm. Once enough technologists have prototyped the capabilities and blogged the possibilities of a good, new technology, it starts to cross the chasm and gain traction and the early majority start to jump on the bandwagon. At this point I think we’re into the Necessity Window, though Roger’s innovation adoption curve might argue that it is only at the peak of the curve, when the late majority group join the party, that we are truly at the Necessity Window.

This raises two questions that are opposite sides of the same coin: Why doesn’t everyone do it? Why do it at all?

So why doesn’t everyone jump straight onto every new technology and start prototyping and blogging? One of the main reason, quite apart from the fact that you’d need a dedicated R&D department, is that it costs money to do and it doesn’t make you any direct money. It also takes a skilled, creative technologist to recognise the technologies with real potential, amongst all the hopeless ones, before they become commercial / mainstream. It takes a skilled technologist to produce the right prototypes, at the right time to exemplify how this new technology will ‘change everything‘ when it goes mainstream. Get it wrong and you’ll spend a lot of time and money making the Microsoft Zune all over again. And nobody wants that.

Why do it at all? Why do we care about the Opportunity Window? That all sounds like a lot of effort right? Why bother? Why take the risk? Let other people do it and as soon as they do all the hard, risky work of prototyping and accurately identifying the next great technology, then, jump right on. You’ll be right 100% of the time…right? So they blog about it first. Who cares? It will save your company time and money. No one buys prototypes, they buy working products. Theres no pay off in the Opportunity Window….right? The smart money waits for the Necessity Window…right?

WRONG! That’s why it’s called the Opportunity Window…because its an opportunity.

Once a technology has been prototyped inspiringly and this inspiration spreads via social media (blog, twitter, etc), we’ve left the Opportunity Window and entered the Necessity Window. Your clients know about this technology now. Your clients are coming to you asking about it – you’re not telling them. It’s being discussed in their marketing department and in their boardroom. They’ve read about it in a number of social and trade media environments and publications. It’s being discussed and demoed at trade shows. But, and this is the really important bit, YOU ARE NOT THE REASON THEY ARE DISCUSSING IT! You are not the deliverers of vision, the innovators, the oracles of the future, the cutters of the edge of technology, the bringers of the next great thing. No. You, are the followers. One of the many faceless who must now add this technology to your portfolio out of…you guessed it, necessity.

Those companies who chase the Opportunity Window are seen as visionaries and innovators, though it makes them little direct money at the time:

Clients seek out companies who regularly shine a light through the Opportunity Window to bring their most precious products and premium campaigns to life in ways they never imagined were possible. They consider them to be leaders in their field. A crucible of new technologies. Visionaries.

Employees view their company as inspirational, challenging and motivating. They boast and blog about working for them, spreading the word and the message.

Prospective employees come from very successful back grounds and aspire to work for them. They want to be part of a company that doesn’t see coal, it sees diamonds ready to be made.

It is a self fulfilling prophesy.

I always try to articulate the importance of the opportunity window (when there is one) when I’m speaking with the board or the tech team at the early stages of a client pitch, or when I’m discussing the relative merits of an R&D program. Often it can be hard for them to believe and there’s nothing like seeing with your own eyes. So I encourage all Tech Directors, Heads of Technology and Digital, CTOs and similar: be creative, not only with the technology and innovation, but also with your team’s time and non project R&D work. Use down time (they’re being paid anyway). Find those dedicated individuals in the team who really live technology and innovation, do the technical architecture and the func.spec. on a prototype of the team’s best ideas. Don’t worry if it can’t be made commercially, worry that you need to inspire the company, the creative, client and tech teams, the board and senior management teams, and ultimately your clients, with the possibilities and innovation these technologies can bring them.

We shouldn’t be content to deliver banner ads and Facebook campaigns. We should strive to break new ground and see new innovation, to make our company more renowned, more money. To make our clients more successful, remarkable and happy. It’s worth the extra effort that’s often required to show the CxOs at your company the game-changing possibilities that our rapidly changing technology landscape can offer.

Fight the fight and shine a light through the Window of Opportunity. Make your company a legend.

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