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The business of innovation

Fernando Suarez, the newly appointed Jean C. Tempel Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, considers himself an “innovation management expert.” A leader in his field, Suarez has cultivated his expertise working in both academia and the private sector on four continents: South America, Asia, Europe, and North America.

He chose Northeastern to be part of the business school’s upward momentum, and has his sights set on building upon its innovation-focused programs.

Much of Suarez’ research focuses on the birth of new industries and the changing competitive dynamics that unfold as industries evolve from youth to maturity. These dynamics have important implications for the strategy of firms, including determining which companies get to stay or have to exit.

Some of his current research focuses on examining the socio-cognitive dynamics of industry evolution. For instance, which how categories and labels emerge around particular types of products, and what makes certain category labels more successful than others. “We are trying to see why it is that some labels stick,” he adds. “Why is it we ended up with ‘smartphones’ and not ‘all-in-one phones’?”

Suarez enthusiastically points out that the interest in innovation has increased significantly in the business world in the last decade or two. Innovation has moved from the confines of research and development departments to being at the forefront of companies’ strategies. “If you go back 20 years, ‘innovation’ was a word used mostly by a specific set of people, those in R&D” Suarez said. “Today it is a word commonly used by most executives in senior management positions.”

For those students who aspire to start their own companies or make their companies’ innovation decisions someday, Suarez says they should be prepared to fail.

“Innovation is a little bit of an art and a little bit of a science,” he says. “You should take courses on innovation and entrepreneurship, but you also need to be aware that you will not get all the answers. Some of the answers you will have to find on your own, by experimenting. Because of that you have to be prepared to tolerate failures… and have the tenacity to start again.”

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