Meta-Technologies and Innovation Leadership: Why There May Be Nothing New Under the Sun

by Rashi Glazer

Fall 2007

Volume 50
Issue 1

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As firms strive to lead through innovation, they face the twin challenges of how to unify seemingly contradictory perspectives. The first is the desire to bring genuinely new products to market with the desire to follow a “market-driven” approach to product development, which often tends to be conservative in nature. The second is avoiding the “innovator’s dilemma,” or becoming the prisoner of a once-but-no-longer successful technology due to the emergence of an apparently “disruptive” newer technology. This article presents a framework for helping organizations simultaneously deal with these two issues, which are rooted in the understanding that while firms may produce a set of (technical) features, consumers purchase benefits. However, since most benefits are generic in nature, then the core “technologies” on which innovations are based—what we describe as meta-technologies—are also generic in nature. By focusing its efforts on meta-technologies, the firm can be innovative while remaining sensitive to customer needs and can simultaneously be market-driven and “market-driving.” This perspective offers a potential solution to the “innovator’s dilemma,” since at the level of benefits, technologies are rarely disruptive, but rather “continuous” and evolutionary. The firm that seeks to develop successful and sustainable strategies for innovation must identify these generic or “meta-technologies” and then design and deliver new products that are based on them.

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