Thursday, December 6, 2012

We dont want your Ideas - give us Innovations !

Year - 2002
Place - India

I : I have a great Idea
Management : We dont want your Ideas - give us Innovations
I :  ?
I :  :(

As technologists (scientists, engineers, inventors), we have the responsibility of focusing our efforts to solve critical problems in the domains of Energy, Healthcare, Food, Water management, waste management etc. Many of these challenges are complex and strongly inter-related. Though we have good insights into the scientific and engineering aspects of these problems, we are far away from visualizing holistic solutions that are affordable and sustainable. I am fully confident that we, the technology community, are ready with the insights to address each of these problems. 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. Typically, if we start with 100 good ideas, we may end our journey with ~ 5 impactful innovations. Most other ideas get killed as they fail to overcome the barriers on way from Lab to Market.

As an Inventor, aspiring to become to Innovators, I faced this challenge ten years back. Over the last one decade, I have been studying innovative solutions across these domains to understand how the innovators grew their ideas into impactful and holistic solutions. I studied a variety of systematic approaches to innovation such as TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving). I was also fortunate to be mentored by successful innovators in the Industry who had many innovative new products to their credit. I studied in-depth the organizational approaches to Innovation used by Innovative companies – GE, Dow, Honeywell, 3M, Shell, Toyota, Tata etc.

The Greatest Challenge for Indian Technology Innovators

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”

(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 align our ideas to critical problems and /or commercial opportunities. We also need to incubate our ideas till they grow into healthy inventions. The focus during the incubation phase is to establish Proof of Concept (POC), strengthen technical feasibility and assess scalability (and manufacturability).

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 solve critical problems and addresses unmet needs 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

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