What Qualifies as True Innovation?

What qualifies as true innovation?

The word ‘innovation’ does get passed around a lot nowadays. From large businesses to startups and perhaps even consultants like myself.

If you take a moment to think about it, innovation is not as commonplace as we might assume it is.

If you had an almost infinite budget, and you created a cutting-edge product, that is innovation, but probably not a great one, at least in my book, unless it is easily affordable by a good section of its total user base.

What does that mean?

In my book, I take a few examples. One of a hand-built, limited-edition supercar. Perhaps only a hundred, or even just 7-8 of them ever built. Each one will come with an astronomical figure on the price-tag. High input costs, the best of components and skilled manpower, and a high sale price.

The W Motors Lykan Hypersport, only 7 made at € 3.1 milion each Source: link

That is not a great example of a true innovation, because only a few people would benefit from it, and it is easy to add technology with a huge budget.

Contrarily, what if a similar amount was invested on an early-warning system for storms or earthquakes that could benefit millions? Now that would be a true innovation!

Another example I mention in my book, is of the USD 120,000 Ottobock Genium X3 knee. It is a state-of-the-art prosthetic foot, also referred to as ‘the Maserati of microprocessor prosthetics.’ Again, at that price, only a few differently abled would be able to afford it to improve their lives.

Then there is the BMVSS fitted Jaipur prosthetic foot, that retails at USD 30-45. It has benefitted over 1.55 million people worldwide since the late 1960s when it was invented.

True innovation does not happen on huge budgets and unlimited manpower and resources. True innovation happens with constraints. Not just monetary constraints, but others too. But that is also when you sometimes get products or services that the world never forgets. Products or services that truly change lives

If you own, manage or work at a company, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, and customer experience management are areas of interest, there are ways in which I can help your business grow. More on it here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon &Flipkart.

Anti-Crime Balls

Anti-crime colour balls

Imagine you are a store manager, and a masked thief has you at gun or knife-point, asking you to empty the cash into his or her bag. How would you recognize the thief outside in a crowd of people? Especially if he or she had an accomplice, and the bag exchanged hands?

Or imagine if a home or bank, or the ATM or even the ATM cash van is being attacked by one or more robbers. Depending on if they have covered their faces, and on how well-lit or dark it is outside, you may or may not be able to recognize the culprits, even if they were in front of you in a police line-up.So what might help in such a situation

Surprisingly, the Japanese have had a solution for over two decades. And a very simple yet innovative one. They have been using baseball sized balls made out of colour pigment. The compound has a shelf life of a few years

Banks and other medium-to-high risk places have them at the counters. In case of a robbery, the employee at the desk merely throws a ball at the thief. The balls break on impact, spraying the colour over a 10 meter radius area. And the colour does not wash off easily, so the police or others would be able to recognize them relatively easily, even in a crowd.

So while even the sight of these anti-crime colour balls sitting in a bowl at a counter were a huge crime deterrent, it was found that whenever a crime occurred, the chances of the attendant throwing one at the criminal (perhaps for fear for their own safety), only about 3% actually threw it.

Even if this innovative solution does not find actual human use, imagine its applications. They could be used as part of automated systems that deploy these upon people crossing restricted or cordoned off areas. Or in case of suspicious activity around ATMs or protected areas.

More about it here: source

If you own, manage or work at a company, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, and customer experience management are areas of interest, there are ways in which I can help your business grow. More on it here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon &Flipkart.

Changing User Behaviour

Changing User Behaviour

I am currently reading the book Hooked, and happened to read something very important. I shared the excerpt with a design thinking group I am administrator of. The snippet read:

John Gourville, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, stipulates that “many innovations fail because consumers irrationally overvalue the old while companies irrationally overvalue the new.”

Nir Eyal

A recent member of the group asked if I could share examples of this.

I said any attempt by a company to break a customers habit toward a competitors product/service, is an example.

This concept needs to be looked at in context of a larger concept of value.

The book says that a product/service attempting to break an existing customer habit must offer 9-times more value than what the customer currently derives from something existing that he/she is habituated with.

One of my favourite examples, that I used in my book, is about keyboards. Interestingly, I found the same example cited in Hooked. This is about the QWERTY keyboard almost all of us are hugely familiar with. And the example of another product that attempted to replace it.
The QWERTY is a very old design. Early 1870s to be exact!

Along the way, a psychologist invented a keyboard called the Dvorak keyboard. After studying usage, he rearranged keys on his keyboard to increase typing speed. What was different, was that the most frequently used keys were put closer together and in the center. A user would spend less time moving to frequently used keys, which were now closer together. Thus Dvorak rightly claimed a significant improvement in typing speeds for anyone who used this new keyboard.

Want something that helps us improve our typing speed?
Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Learning to use a differently-arranged device should not be too tough for humans from an ability point of view. Surprisingly, the Dvorak keyboard never really took off.

The Dvorak keyboard: image source

Look at the Dvorak keyboard in context of the above 9x benefit. Perhaps the benefit it offered was not high enough for users to leave an old habit (Qwerty). And learn a new one.

To wrap it up… The new guys are like Dr. Dvorak and team. They assume a better product that needs users to do things differently will be an instant success. What they don’t realize, is that users need to see a disproportionately high benefit first. It takes a hugely great product solving a pressing problem, to make customers learn a new way to do something. Little else incentivizes them enough. And in context of more recent startups, it takes astronomical amounts in funding to tempt users to change a behaviour. And that too with no guarantee they will still be around when the offers and freebies stop.

If you own, manage or work at a company, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, and customer experience management are areas of interest, there are ways in which I can help your business grow. More on it here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon &Flipkart.

Goby the Fish

I recently came across an article about an initiative to create awareness about marine pollution.

Some folks living close to a beach (can’t seem to find the beach’s location), created a giant, transparent fish. Made of mesh and barbed wire, it had a signboard which read, ‘Goby loves plastic, please feed him.’

It made for a fun game for visitors, who helped fill it with trash lying around. But it probably also created a hard-hitting visual for everyone who saw it. A giant, transparent fish filled with plastic would leave a lasting impression in anyone compared to reading articles about marine pollution.

What’s concerning however, is that we humans are getting smarter by the generation. And yet it takes increasingly creative ways for us to register the consequences of the mistakes we keep repeating.

Source of the article: link

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If you run or manage a business, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, customer experience or ideation are areas of interest, there are a few ways I can help. More about it here.

My book, ‘Design the Future’ is available as an Ebook on Amazon & Kobo, and as paperbacks across leading online bookstores including Amazon &Flipkart. I’ll look forward to your review on Amazon once you’ve read it.

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Context

One of the fundamental ingredients of an impactful innovation or successful design thinking exercise, is empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Often, in our enthusiasm to create something someone (a customer segment, employees, or even society), or to solve a problem for them, we tend to knowingly or unknowingly speed up the process. We skip the part of trying to understand the problem or the cause of it. Or the unexpressed need. We create, and we expect (or at least hope for) delight from those receiving our innovations or solutions.

This simple image I came across online gives great context to our urgency to solve problems or innovate. An infant is too young to realize or even see clearly, the flaw in this. If a simple flaw like this could be missed by most of us, what else might we be missing? How little effort are we taking to look at business innovation or problem-solving from the right ‘context’?

Source: link

Small efforts in understanding customer needs, go a long way. Apart from feeling appreciated and important, customers help us get closer to innovative solutions they are willing to pay for. The least we can do is look at their needs and problems from their perspective.

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If you run or manage a business, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, customer experience or ideation are areas of interest, there are a few ways I can help. More about it here.

My book, ‘Design the Future’ is available as an Ebook on Amazon & Kobo, and as paperbacks across leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart. Look forward to your review on Amazon once you’ve read it.

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Look forward to your views. For similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion, follow or subscribe (top right of the page). You can also connect with me onLinkedIn and onTwitter.

Lose Your Illusion

Lose Your Illusion

Sometime last year, I had an interesting conversation with a friend’s girlfriend who is a psychologist. Between drawing inferences from my handwriting to discussing human behaviour in general. She also mentioned the acute dearth of mental health personnel in the country (India) at the moment.

I did some reading around that. The most recent global statistic on number of psychiatrists and nurses in the mental health sector was by WHO. The study dates back to 2014. According to it, 30.4% of the world’s countries had less than 1 professional per 100,000 population. There’s also no data available on another 35.5% of the countries.

And while Monaco had a commendable 40.98 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, in India, that number was a shameful 0.30. That means, there’s one psychiatrist for every 300,000 of the population. Or a total of between 3500 and 5000 psychiatrists in the country.

Then there are psychologists (they council, and focus on treating mental and emotional suffering but cannot prescribe medications; unlike psychiatrists, who mainly focus on treatment with medication) As per Sindhu BS, a Mental Health Therapist on Quora, the Indian Psychology Association, of which she is a member, has less than 10,000 members in 2018. Another source mentioned some 14000-15000 psychologists in India. India is already on the higher end of the spectrum as of 2016 when it came to suicides. At 18.5 per 100,000 population.

And here’s why this will be even more concerning going forward. The world is seeing a steadily growing impact of automation on jobs across sectors. India has been shielding employment in every way possible. Resisting industrial automation to maintaining average quality of work worked well for a section of average skilled, low-cost labour.  But how long can it continue to do so before it starts feeling the negative global impact of it? Additionally, India is on its path to soon being the largest population in the world. It is also on the verge of being the youngest population in the world.

Young Indians are pouring into different sectors which will have a steadily shrinking job base. This could lead to a spike in the depression and suicide numbers. But is the country and its government anticipating and doing anything to build a safety net for that?

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Gucci’s Packaging – Not so Gucci

Gucci’s Packaging – Not so Gucci

I recently conducted an interactive session on Design Thinking at a leading investment bank. It might be easy to assume that applications of design thinking at an investment bank are limited. It is quite the opposite though. And the applicable scope of design thinking just seems to grow bigger with each passing day. The team was also kind enough to present me with a thoughtful gift at the end of the session. A Gucci tie.

Now, once you’re in the design thinking fold, you are always processing and assessing products and services. As you might have noticed, the tip of the tie is a little crumpled. If I was the manufacturer of ties that retailed at anything between $60-240 or more, I would have been concerned about the experience a customer goes through of opening the packaging and seeing the product as well.

The tie came in a tall box which was in a slightly taller paper bag, fastened with an embossed ribbon. When you hold the bag upright however, the tie drops inside thanks to that often-neglected phenomena called gravity. This causes creases at the tip of the tie. Now while many might tell you it is ok to iron a tie, it is not something I’d recommended you did often. And certainly not something you would want to do with a brand new tie.

While there might be several ways to package it in a way that leaves an impression with the customer, it isn’t something I’ll spend time thinking of right now. The easy way for Gucci to solve this problem, would be by merely placing a card paper insert which is fixed to the sides of the box. It would hold the tie in place at the top, like a clothes hanger. That way, the tip of the tie would never touch the bottom of the box when held upright.

Little things go a long way in improving how customers interact with your product. And how they remember it.

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Need Ideas? Dress Down

Need Ideas? Dress Down

Despite the Mumbai heat, I don’t miss an opportunity to wear a suit. Especially to a first-time work meeting with people. However, things are different if the agenda of a meeting is problem solving or ideating. Then, I not just prefer, but also strongly recommend a casual dress code.

Why?

Think about the times you get the best ideas. It could be about work, about hobbies, about fitness, recipes, or even new businesses. I bet if you were to look back on your life, two locations might be the luckiest places to have a light bulb moment.

Starting with the second first, those were probably when you were in bed, or in the shower (or even in the loo for that matter). In bed, good chances are you’re either dressed light, or half naked. Then there is the shower. Remember frantically looking around for someplace and means of writing your idea, because you’re sure you’d forget if you waited till you finished. Like the hundreds of ideas before. Seemingly priceless ones that unwittingly got swept with the flowing water.

So, next time you’re sitting to brainstorm some great ideas for your business or at work. No, don’t stroll in in the buff. But strongly consider dressing casually. You and your teammates would be more at ease. You’d be able to think of ideas that might have otherwise remained elusive. Especially because you were busy adjusting your trousers around the thighs, or feeling the choking feeling of the tie around your neck.

Is it why most innovative companies are never stuck up about things like dress code? Seems obviously so!
So remember. Need ideas? Dress down!

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The Non-Financial Side of Business

The Non-Financial Side of Business
A call with an industry colleague last week set in motion, thoughts on how we measure individual or business success.
As a kid growing up in India in the 80’s, studies used to be quite a tricky part of life. Studying history, for instance. We had a ton of dates to remember, and it somehow never made sense. The pointlessness of remembering precise dates of events ranging from a few decades to a few centuries gone by. Instead of, perhaps evaluating people gone by, on the basis of their actions, or the sum of their actions. Perhaps we would have learnt more about values. About actions and consequences. But they would not have it any other way. Events and dates of their occurrence was clearly more important to them.
Then came interesting subjects like physics, and a few deeper questions around it. [Link]
Subsequently, there was the ’Must. Read. Newspapers’ phase. Not just that, I guess people also expected you to remember current events. For someone who is not a keen quiz player, I felt it was pointless beyond just having a fair sense of what was happening. Somewhere I believed storing irrelevant information wouldn’t really matter someday.
Then, thankfully, the internet came to our rescue.
In my adult life, all around, businesses seem obsessed with numbers. Financials. Be it sales and profitability, or costs, or more complicated ones. Cost of acquiring a customer. Shopping cart abandonment. Customer churn rate. Average profit per visitor or Product conversion rate. Among others.
The world became, and continues to be increasingly obsessed with numbers and ratios. And that’s all most businesses focus on. The employee or customer can be at the receiving end of the bare minimum that a tight-margin allowance to appease a ratio will allow. But not more.
The day machines take over a business function, efficiency will jump up dramatically, as will profitability.
But where would that leave us? Put differently, have we always been missing a bigger point?
What will matter when machines take over (finally!), is what customers really want. Because then we won’t be obsessing over the numbers. Hopefully not at least.
And hopefully then, we’ll start to see that it is not a numbers game. That business is about relevance. If it’s useful or good, they will buy. If a process is well designed as per them, they will use it.
Numbers, as I’ve always held, are an incidental, intermittent aftereffect of a non-numerical, ongoing end-user pleasing process.
I’m not saying that top and bottom lines and all those in-between are irrelevant. Sure they help as indicators. But they perhaps help more when we are doing the more important job. Of ensuring the main objective of our business is met. Once you focus on the non-financial aspects that really run your business, you’ll see how the financials catch up. Automatically!

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Why Design Thinking is Here to Stay

Why Design Thinking is Here to Stay

A close friend recently shared this article titled ‘Why Design Thinking will fail’, written in 2013 by Jeffrey Tjendra. Jeffrey is a designer entrepreneur and strategist. Among some of us friends, there was were points of disagreement on the article. Jeffrey does seem to have a good understanding of design thinking. This post, however, is an effort towards taking a closer look at each point mentioned there. And to see if it makes sense or not. All of this, with my limited but growing knowledge of design thinking.

Before I begin, here’s a quote by Mara Wilson. While her quote describes storytelling, I believe it offers a more far reaching explanation. With products and services too, for instance. She said, “The more specific you get, the more universal it is. (It’s a special alchemy of storytelling).” – Mara Wilson

Back to the article, here goes:

  1. Misperception of Meaning – I’ll agree, it can be misleading to some. I use either ‘human-centered’ or ‘user-centered’ design thinking in an attempt to bring a little more clarity, especially when interacting with people I believe might misinterpret the meaning.
  2. Loss of Meaning – Can’t do much about that. A lot of effective methodologies often see phases of hype and a lot of randomness being packaged and sold in its name. But as the dust settles, only the real stuff and an increased respect remains.
  3. Misunderstanding and Not Accepting Creative Elements – True. However, any company or more specifically, a management that has ever worked on any form of creativity or innovation, knows how boring, full of trials and iterations, full of mess and uncertainty it can be. Look at your kid’s school projects for instance. If it isn’t too simple, it is bound to take a lot of ‘random’, before it starts to make sense. Anyone who doesn’t understand that, will surely not use design thinking. And that’s alright.
  4. Lack of Business Elements – Coming from a management and finance background, with experience in strategy and marketing, I tend to build those critical business aspects to a design thinking project. And that is especially why the design thinking team needs to have a wide-enough assortment of skillsets. Using only UI/UX people or ethnographers or psychologists is not going to do the trick.
  5. Language and Perspective Barriers – There have been worse instances of communication gaps. For instance, if you have heard the almost unbelievable and heroic story of the Gimli Glider. An obvious technical specification got so conveniently ignored, that it put at risk, 69 occupants aboard a Boeing 767. Read the fascinating story! So, it just boils down to the intention and seriousness of the parties involved. Nothing is foolproof or idiot-proof. But a lot of change and innovation can be brought about with the right intentions. And no amount of left-brain learning and practice can fix unpredictable situations either. Because a lot of left-brain thinkers often learn a process from end to end. Any deviation could potentially leave them baffled. Creative thinking, on the other hand, helps one focus on the fundamentals. On understanding the building blocks more and more. And then, irrespective of situations or deviations to them, there is often more clarity as the building blocks can be used to better understand complexity. And it’s often easier to communicate fundamental building blocks across language barriers, as opposed to communicating complexity to begin with.
  6. Missing Future – Even design thinking veterans like IDEO have made mistakes, overestimating future demand of tech products. A strong problem or opportunity statement (which is open to being updated when you learn more about the end-user) helps reduce the risk. As does an unbiased and strong mechanism to interact with, and observe and understand needs, behaviours and desires of end-users, and capture that information towards building a solution.
  7. Wrong Implementation of Process – Which is why a lot of products and ingredients come with ‘Instructions to Use’. If an ingredient needs to be mixed and cooked, simply sprinkling it will not help.
  8. Poor Direction Scoping – This is where an intention and objective to start with, matters. There are billions of people, billions of problems and billions more opportunities. Which one or ones do you want to target. That’s what you pursue. Ignore everything else.
  9. Co-creation at the End of Process – all I’ll say is, phone sex doesn’t help create babies.
  10. Misconception of Approach to Creativity – This is true. Some people would tend to follow the design thinking process like it is a treasure map, when in fact, it is navigating your way through hostile jungle. Your senses need to be on alert all the time. Any input can change a lot of initial assumptions. That lions don’t climb trees. Or that chimps tend to rely on third party to help resolve disputes.
  11. Wishful Thinking for Culture of Innovation – Completely agree here. Which is why, a startup whose founders have the right values and give importance to innovation, can build it better into their culture, as opposed to trying to inject it into a global behemoth that has a century of history.
  12. The End Process is not the End – true – design teams, just like any other specialty teams, need to walk the talk. Leaving projects with solution advice that is abstract to clients, won’t serve anyone’s purpose. A lot of large consulting firms were infamous for doing this back in the day. Leaving clients many million dollars poorer, and with a big “report” that the client was clueless what to do with.
  13. Risk of Stagnancy – As Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Thoughts?

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