Some companies may be missing out on opportunities for growth by omitting to explore potential applications of their technology outside their core business areas.  This is the stark warning given by professors Federico Frattini and Erwin Danneels in a recent article published in MITSloan Management Review.

Looking beyond the obvious target markets is one of the necessary skills of today’s leaders – as is evidenced by the success of those companies who do manage to tap some less obvious sources of income.

Clearly, things move very fast in today’s technological world and in order to keep a competitive edge, a company needs to be looking out continually for alternative ways of applying their ideas. This means getting back to basics and using all the creativity at hand to devise alternative uses, possibly in other business sectors.

The process is by no means simple and can involve third parties who know the new markets better. Launching a new product is fraught with difficulty not only in terms of commercialisation but also in simply knowing how to assess its real value. The professors have come up with a series of steps to be taken, based on their research and experience, in order for companies to maximise their technology’s potential.

Innovation, research and creativity, therefore, can be put to good use not only when designing something completely new but also profitably when trying to widen the sphere of a technology’s application. The article lists a whole series of examples of companies who have succeeded in doing just this, and explains the not always smooth journey each has made and how they overcame the various obstacles in their path.

The kinds of benefits that new applications can bring to the consumer are not limited to cost savings alone and therefore, the putative innovator should bear in mind that markets will also welcome products which are easier to use, time savers or possibly simply possess a novelty value. With competition abounding, ideas should be explored and chances seized at the earliest opportunity, before the next big thing comes along to replace an existing model. “De-linking” a piece of technology from its current application and “re-linking” it to another in order to leverage it requires a special form of expertise and whole swathes of the internet are now devoted to this area, known as technology transfer, with competitions being held to tap the ideas of problem-solving communities. Applications are invited in global contests, furthering open innovation, a decentralised approach to the field. Given the vast distribution of knowledge today this collaborative approach makes sense; companies understand that it is difficult to innovate effectively and create new revenue streams without input from the wider community.

In their article, the professors set out a series of criteria to be weighed up and analysed in depth before a business should be ready to make a large investment; this includes knowing whether they have the capability to go it alone or whether outside help will be needed to bring a project to fruition. However, if the company gets it right, they can reap the benefits of their innovation.

The conclusion allows that technology leverage, to a great extent, requires a company to take a leap into the unknown since before going down the development route, it is difficult – if not impossible – to know what will be the outcome. Getting it right, though, yields big rewards and is beneficial not only to the company itself in financial terms but also to society as a whole, both through job creation and in terms of technological advancement.

The core message here is to think strategically and laterally, weighing up all the factors in play so as not to miss the potential which could be fulfilled by your existing technology through an innovative, left-field application.