Innovation in a World of Convergence

Our VERGE conference centers around the convergence of energy, information, buildings, and energy as one of the next great waves of innovation.

Indeed, the possibilities seem endless in a world of converging technologies, from infrastructure (the smart grid and all of the intelligence being built into cities, highways, pipelines and other structures -- things like smart meters, sensor networks, and fiber optic and wireless networks); to business functions (things like telematics, smart building analytics, renewable energy facilities, microgrids, electric vehicle charging stations, and sensors for demand response); to consumer products and services (smart homes, smart appliances, smart vehicles, and for a vast assortment of things just now being conceived).

And 1,001 things no one has yet thought of.

But how does the process of innovation change in a world of converging technologies? I posed that question to my longtime friend Robert Shelton, a partner at the consultancy PRTM, co-author of Making Innovation Work, and one of the world's leading experts on how innovation happens inside companies.

"Innovation definitely changes in several ways when you have converging technologies," he began. "First, it changes what is possible. It provides new ingredients for solutions that before had been limited to solutions within a given topical area. In this case, people from energy maybe didn't think much about buildings or vehicles or information. So, as they converge, there are new ingredients, which allows new rules of the game to be created through mixing technologies and business models. It allows new ways to play the game -- and in some cases it can create whole new games, where people literally define entirely new industries, new ways to create value for consumers or for businesses."

Shelton was just getting warmed up.

Higher, Faster, Better

The second change, he said, is that VERGE potentially accelerates the rate at which innovation happens. "By adding all these new ingredients there is a lot more at hand. But the other part is that it seems to fuel a lot of activity from a host of players, some of them that are already in these industries, but also some new entrants that see new opportunities. And as they pile in, the rate of change increases and this creates additional opportunities. It also creates new threats, so companies feel pushed or pulled towards getting involved, upping the investment, and going faster in innovation."