Module Note | March 2006

Managing Innovation in an Uncertain World: Module 4: Sensing Opportunity

by Alan D. MacCormack


Describes the fourth module of the 30-session Harvard Business School elective course Managing Innovation in an Uncertain World. The course helps students understand the challenges that uncertainty implies for innovation and how to overcome them. The course emphasizes multiple levels of analysis--from creating and executing development projects to building and balancing portfolios of projects to assessing and selecting future opportunities for development--showing how to align these activities to face uncertainties and take advantage of the opportunities they present. Allows students to respond the situations from multiple perspectives and assume different roles--from project manager to CEO--to appreciate how various organizational roles themselves reflect these perspectives. The fourth module, Sensing Opportunity, focuses on how organizations manage opportunities for innovation in the future. A central theme is that in many environments, opportunities emerge and evolve in a dynamic and unpredictable manner. New possibilities may arise in locations far from a firm's existing focus and along dimensions not previously considered relevant. Hence, there is a need both to sense and to shape the evolution of the organization's innovation landscape, allowing what is unknown to come into view. (Students, having explored the dimensions of this landscape in the prior module, are primed for this perspective.) The module introduces a structured way to achieve this objective--in particular, through the design of so-called sensing networks, which scan the periphery of a firm's innovation landscape for important signals that demand attention. The materials motivate the need for such networks, demonstrate how they can be designed and managed, and highlight the mechanisms through which they create value.

Keywords: Innovation and Management; Problems and Challenges; Management Analysis, Tools, and Techniques; Projects; Opportunities; Risk and Uncertainty; Perspective; Value Creation; Networks; Alignment;


MacCormack, Alan D. "Managing Innovation in an Uncertain World: Module 4: Sensing Opportunity." Harvard Business School Module Note 606-104, March 2006.