Innovate or perish: strategies in an uncertain world

11 October 2018

Professor Tim Coltman, Dean of Waikato Management School

New Zealand businesses; no matter their size, history, or industry; are constantly looking over their shoulder to assess the threat from disruptive technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and blockchain.

While uncertainty is a fact of life, some companies are more adept than others at responding to these challenges, says Professor Tim Coltman, Dean of the University of Waikato’s Management School.

“If we want to grow the nation’s wealth, then businesses across all sectors – from agriculture to tourism – need to find ways of learning from market leaders to reduce the uncertainty associated with investment in technological innovation,” he says.

Professor Coltman will give a public talk called ‘Navigating Disruptive Innovation in an Uncertain World’, on Tuesday, 23 October as part of the 2018 Hamilton Public Lecture Series, in which the University of Waikato’s newest professors demonstrate how their work is having a real impact on the world around us.

The lecture is free, open to the public, and will be held in the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato, starting at 5.15pm.

His lecture will cover two approaches to tackle innovation uncertainty. Firstly, using a new science of demand to gain a lens into the mind of future customers, and secondly, unpacking resource allocation choices by integrating demand with supply.

“Waikato is often described as one of the best performing regions in New Zealand for generating innovative new ideas,” he says. “But when it comes to commercialising those ideas, we’re actually among the worst performing regions.”

The implications of this for a Triple Crown-accredited business school such as Waikato, says Professor Coltman, is that “Good management science, intuitively applied, can be used to help business leaders make better strategic decisions.”

“Going with gut instinct is unlikely to yield the results you want when uncertainty is high. Taking a more scientific approach to understand the impact of distruptive technologies can lead to more accurate forecasts and even slight improvements, and can save you big money.”

Professor Coltman’s lecture will also discuss what this means for higher education, where the threat of disruptive innovation is real. “The trick is to recognise that disruptive innovation is not a product at a single point in time, but the evolution of a technology over time.”

His own research shows that the language of disruption is always faster than actual disruption in the workplace. “While technology is changing at a faster rate than ever before, it takes much longer for the business landscape to change in a material way. The key message for students is that the basic economic laws you learn in business schools like Waikato Management School are likely to stand the test of time.”

Professor Coltman has more than 15 years' industry experience as a surveyor, firefighter, systems engineer and senior project manager within private consultancy, government and higher education.

He has a PhD in Strategic Management (jointly award by the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney) and has been awarded moe than $13 million for his pioneering research programmes. This work has been funded by organisations such as: Australian Research Council, DHL Express (Asia Pacific), Ports Australia, BlueScope Steel, Kimberley-Clark, and the SAS Institute.

Professor Coltman has more than 100 publications in many of the leading international journals in management and related disciplines.

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