It is easier to create new products or services with the combination, or hybridisation, of pre-existing ones, than to try to imagine breakthrough concepts. The idea is not new at all. In fact, I recall that Paul Romer commented that the future would come from a “combinatory” of ideas, of mixing components to generate new things. The hybridisation of products, technologies and business models will probably be fundamental for the West, if we want to survive the Asiatic wave. In particular, our economic survival will depend on our ability to invent new categories of products and services directly from the basic sciences.
New ideas with great potential emerge from the connections between apparently different disciplines. Proof that this phenomenon of the hybridisation of fields and disciplines is already happening can be found in the annual selection of the most promising under 35s in technology by MIT’s Technology Review. We can read about what they are studying, but we won’t understand a word of it, because most of them are involved in new fields of knowledge that have been fused from already existing areas.
Hybridisation is a recognised innovation method, systematically used in industries such as the car industry. Many of the vehicles on the market come from a combination of previous examples: a car that is nearly a motorcycle (the Smart car) or a motorcycle that is nearly a car (the BMW C1); the combination of car and van (a people carrier); car and tractor (a four-wheel drive); four-wheel drive and motorbike (a quad bike); four-wheel drive and tank (the Hummer); a road car and Formula 1 car (a Tramontana), etc.
We are surrounded by examples of hybrid products and services. And often, the hybridisation is not of products but of concepts. Hotel rooms for frequent guests, who turn them into a home for a few days every week (the extended hotel concept). The combination of ideas from the past and the future to create concepts for the present (used by Maserati to design its vehicles); the fusion of the best of low cost with the best of high value (the Japanese airline StarFlyer has done this with great success, following in the footsteps of pioneers such as Ikea and Muji); the combination of a university and a cruise liner (Scholarship)75. Hybridisation of a computer and a book, the TabletPC. Of a telephone aerial and a satellite – a Stratellite – an aerial on a balloon or a zeppelin. Of an actual and virtual assistant, a verbot, intelligent software that listens to your question and answers almost like a human. Of private and public transport, car sharing.
To make hybridisation possible in organisations, there is a crucial element: people whose interests span more than one field. People with a foot in each discipline, who know and are respected in both areas. These are the people who provide the glue, whose ability is to build
bridges between distinct disciplines.
More in my book Visionomics.