While scientists are stepping up their efforts to develop new technologies, the ability of firms to determine the value of their technologies by identifying potential applications has become a major challenge. This article focuses on a particular phase of technology development: the emergence phase. When a promising new technology first sees the light of day in a fundamental research laboratory, its target markets often seem plentiful but are ill-defined. The inability to produce prototypes or to identify potential users makes it difficult to explore potential commercial applications. On the basis of four micro-nanotechnologies case studies conducted within a multi-partner innovation project, this article aims to theoretically explain why the identification of applications from emerging technologies is not a trivial problem. That research analyses how technologists and non-experts interact during creative investigations into new applications. It shows that the technologists are victims of a form of cognitive fixation. Indeed, their beliefs and activities are guided by a stable cognitive representation of their technology: the presumed identity of technology. Based on a recent design framework, C-K Design Theory, the technological exploration process followed in our four case studies is modelled, and mechanisms to dismantle the presumed identity and to design an extended identity of technology are provided.
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