Technological leadership in an industry certainly seems like a ticket to ongoing success. However, overemphasis on existing technological capabilities may produce a form of myopia in product development. In other words, by focusing primarily on developing and improving their core technologies, organizations miss opportunities to exploit new technologies and thus create breakthrough products.
Ken Kusunoki proposes that problem‐solving approaches in a technologically leading firm paradoxically may impede radical product innovation. Suggesting that such firms are inherently oriented toward incremental innovation, he presents a conceptual framework of the dynamic interaction between technological and product development problem‐solving in the context of product innovation. He then illustrates this conceptual framework by examining a case of radical innovation in the Japanese facsimile industry.
For a technological leader, product innovation typically is driven by technology development. In other words, such a firm quite reasonably relies on the technological advantage it holds over competitors as the basis for its product developments. By refining and enhancing its industry‐leading technological capabilities, the firm can successfully introduce incremental innovations in its products. Because of this strong emphasis on exploiting existing technological capabilities, however, the technological leader may fail to capitalize on new technologies that can produce radical innovations.
In the race to develop high‐speed, digital facsimile equipment during the early 1970s, for example, Matsushita held a decided technological advantage over competitors such as Ricoh. Notwithstanding Matsushita's technological edge, however, Ricoh brought this radical innovation to market two years before Matsushita introduced its first digital machine, causing a serious decline in Matsushita's market share.
Ricoh's approach to technological and product problem‐solving—an autonomous team structure, with a strong project manager and frequent transfers of engineers among interdependent units—contrasts dramatically with Matsushita's functional structure and strong emphasis on technological problem‐solving. Interestingly, Matsushita regained its technological advantage by 1976, thanks to a rapid series of incremental innovations