Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Greatest Challenge for Technologists in India - How to evolve good ideas into valuable innovations

How to evolve good ideas into valuable innovations

I am fully confident that we, the community of Indian Technologists, are ready with the insights to address many of the technology challenges that face us. When we as a community share our insights, pool our resources and further build upon the insights through focused ideation, we will get good ideas. We are all trained to solve such technology problems and we routinely come up with good ideas, hence the journey so far is on well laid roads and smooth terrain. How do we take our ideas beyond this point? The trek beyond this point is on a difficult terrain, dense fog that blinds us, very less oxygen that make us gasp, slippery slopes that slow us down, unpredictable avalanches that threaten our lives, Yetis and whatnot. We need determination, guts, special gear, reserve oxygen, experienced guides, perseverance and most importantly a clear vision of the summit. There are many barriers that prevent us from realizing the true value from our ideas.

We face a real challenge in evolving our ideas into innovations. However, it is very important that we take our ideas successfully to the market “For it doesn’t matter where scientific discoveries and breakthrough technologies originate – for national prosperity, the important thing is who commercializes them”, said Amar Bhide (Where Innovation creates value, The McKinsey Quarterly, 2009). Let us look at the factors that help a technical idea to reach the market. At the outset, we need to incubate our ideas till they grow into healthy inventions. A fresh technical idea is as delicate as a new born baby and it needs care and private space during its early days. Next, we have to harness the inventions with the right strategy to create valuable intellectual property. The intellectual protection of the invention acts like a fence and allows it to grow and blossom into a strong technology solution. We should learn to effectively monetize our intellectual property to create affordable technology solutions. Finally we need to creatively translate the technology solutions into innovations that succeed in the market. We need to evolve a process that will ensure that the ideas we pursue lead to technology solutions that are truly desirable, technically feasible and economically viable.

  • What is the challenge? the poor conversion of good ideas into truly valuable innovation. The fundamental issues behind this challenge are - How to create the vision for technology innovation? How to engage the experts and focus their efforts? How to organize the resources? How to deliver the innovations in time?

  • How is it a challenge? when ideas don’t evolve into innovations, the inventors get discouraged, technology managers are frustrated, stakeholders are disappointed, technology development stagnates, the business loses confidence in R&D, new product development falls into a coma and ultimately the market suffers.

  • Who faces the challenge? technologists and scientists everywhere face this challenge whether they are in university research groups, government laboratories, industrial R&D teams in large companies, small technology start-ups etc. Though the innovation environment is significantly different across these organizations, the challenge remains the same.

  • When and where is it a challenge? the challenge arises typically when the market need is ahead of the technology or when the technology is ahead of the market. The challenge exists in most emerging / developing / fast-growing economies. The challenge is intense, for a late entrant, in technology domains where the IP space is crowded. The absence of government regulation or enforcement favoring the new technology could further make things difficult.

  • Why is it a challenge?
    • Management of IP – Inventors create valuable IP when they patent their ideas and inventions, but most of them don’t realize the importance of monetizing their IP. Even large technology-based businesses and R&D organizations do not effectively monetize their intellectual capital. Sustaining the innovation efforts becomes a challenge when the IP fails to generate value.
    • New Product Development – Effective use of technology to differentiate the product in the market is the most reliable way to create a competitive advantage. The creation of a winning product needs a good knowledge of the unmet needs and a focused effort to meet those needs through technology innovations. Typical examples of a desired, but currently unmet, need in technology products could be lower cost, longer life, more user friendly, environment friendly etc. Sustaining the innovation efforts becomes a challenge when the revenue generated by new products is non-existent or delayed.

Path forward - Open innovation models have demonstrated, in the recent past, their power to accelerate the evolution of ideas into innovations and significantly reduce the cost involved in this process. Encouraged by this demonstration, many big multinational companies have thrown open their technology challenges to the public and they are able to access innovation talent beyond their walls. Innovators across nations and walks of life – school kids, college students, house wives, retired professors, end users – participate in the ideation process. Long unsolved technology problems get solved, as if by magic, in this giant collective effort. We could follow up the creation of the grand technology challenges with an open innovation based approach to generate innovative solutions. As the first step, we should aim to create and tap an innovation network across the country to meet this grand challenge.