Friday, August 30, 2013

Integrating Simplicity into Innovation

Thanks to @VivaDadwal, I have just finished reading a series of articles on reverse innovation in the healthcare sector. I was fascinated to learn that current antimalarials draw their origins from Chinese medicine and that variolation in Africa and Asia was a precursor to modern inoculation and vaccination. Clearly, the concept of reverse innovation is not new. And the beauty of innovation is that it can happen anywhere- from a Northern California garage to a township in South Africa. As long as a product or process meets a need in a new way, we should take it seriously and learn from it. I would go even further to say that we all need to adapt a "reverse innovation" mindset and learn from innovation under extreme resource-constraints.

In their book on Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler mention the importance of two trends that make lives better for the base of the pyramid- dematerialisation and demonetisation. Dematerialisation is the notion that we now need fewer products . Using the example of smart phones, we can see how functionality that used to live on a number of separate products (computer, phone, video game console, portable disc player, camera, etc.) can now fit onto a single device. Demonetisation is the process of making existing products cheaper by an order of magnitude. The book initially uses the examples of drones, which initially cost governments billions of dollars. After a series of hacks by do-it-yourself enthusiasts, the price of drones dropped dramatically. One can now buy a simple drone for $100.

While these concepts are interesting, they focus on a primarily Western model of innovation. Spinning military technology for civilian use is a common concept in the United States and Israel, but for countries where military R&D is minimal, this method of innovation is irrelevant. And even more disconcerting is the idea that cramming more features into a single product is always better. It was brilliant in the case of the iPhone. But for new entrepreneurs and innovators, starting with this level of complexity as the end goal can lead to confusion and a lack of focus.

We can learn so much from the focus on simplicity that entrepreneurs in low-income circumstances have, a focus they have developed out of need and lack of resources. I met with my mentor Robyn Scott earlier today, who brilliantly described entrepreneurs in slums as innovators trying to build using one wobbly block. In the developed world, we often focus from the outset on our vision of a mansion. We move quickly from a minimum viable product to an expanded suite of offerings, thinking that constant upgrades and additions are integral to success.

What if we used this concept of simplicity to look at the crux of an innovation, the one core element to its success? What if we used our energy and resources to do one thing exceptionally well?

1 comment:

viva said...

Really enjoyed this post. Would you consider submitting to the series? We will continue to accept manuscripts on a rolling basis after the launch in an attempt to build a global knowledge pool in this area.