Envision the possible, break down resistance and prototype the future: how to manage the uncertainty of innovation


All companies—from large, established organisations to small startups—wrestle with the same question: How do we innovate? Finding the answer and understanding how companies manage the uncertainty of innovation is Nathan Furr’s area of expertise.

The Assistant Professor of Strategy at INSEAD is a rising star in the field of innovation and technology strategy. His latest co-authored book on the topic, Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company's Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018) will be published this fall. It outlines a three-step process to create breakthrough change by envisioning the possible, breaking down resistance and prototyping the future. The purpose is to help business leaders overcome and transcend “the intractable human problems” associated with change, including fear, habits and routines, politics and the inability to see what doesn’t yet exist.

The book is just the latest in an impressive body of research Furr has built since his days as a Stanford PhD student. His work has appeared in many prestigious publications, such as Harvard Business ReviewMIT Sloan Management Review and Strategic Management Journal. He’s co-authored multiple books, including the award-winning The Innovator's Method: Bringing the Lean Start-up into Your Organization (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014).

Working with leading companies like Google, Amazon and Tesla, Furr studies how new and established firms adapt to technology changes, enter new markets, capture new opportunities, engage in multi-party ecosystem innovation and develop innovative business models. How to turn ideas into reality and handle uncertainty is at the heart of his work. He began studying start-ups for insights into the process because “successful startups are good at managing uncertainty—that’s the water that they swim in,”

His work identified five things that characterise how disruptive innovators think. The first is associating two things or seeing the connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. “Innovators who come up with lots of ideas do this all the time. But you can’t associate out of nothing; you need fuel for this process.” Four behaviours generate the fuel—questioning, observing, experimenting and networking for ideas."

Furr’s work helps advance INSEAD’s vision of using business as a force for good in the world. “Ultimately, I believe innovation is about solving problems and making the world a better place,” he says.

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