Thursday, July 17, 2014

Innovation is Yoga - a balancing act

Yoga is balance - Yoga is all about achieving a state of balance. Balance is commonly understood in the context of two opposing forces. A Yogi establishes himself in a state of balance both internally and externally. The complex world of opposing forces does not disturb his equilibrium. 

Yoga means union -- the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one's actions (B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga Guru).

Innovation is a balancing act
  • Idea Conceptialization - Innovation is all about balancing. Many innovators have the uncanny ability to balance two opposite views in their mind during idea conceptualization. The Wright brothers, when they were conceptualizing their design for an aeroplane, used to alternately argue for and against an idea (read The Wright Way - Seven problem solving skills from the Wright brothers). Sustaining two opposite ideas in the mind, without being biased to either one, is definitely a higher order cognitive skill. Thus an innovator's balancing act starts right from the conceptual stage (also read Roger Martin's Opposable Mind).
  • Idea Selection - When the Innovator gets into the idea selection phase, he has to balance possibility vesrsus profitability. If he is biased towards profitability, he will end up pursuing low-risk, incremental ideas. If he is biased towards possibility, he may passionately pursue a high-risk, breakthrough idea that has no business case. His success depends on his ability to balance possibility and profitability while selecting the idea.
  • Idea Funding - The Venture Capitalist, while hearing the Innovator's pitch, tries to balance the risks versus returns. Vinod Khosla, Valley's most famous Cleantech VC, has a unique skill of spotting seemingly risky ideas that yield good returns. The innovator, to convince the VC and get funded, has to balance the risks and returns around his idea.
  • Idea Protection - Next, the Innovator would like to patent protect her idea and create an antry barrier for competitors. While patenting her idea, she has to take a balanced approach - her claims should not be too broad (as it may infringe on somebody's IP) or too narrow (as it will allow others to design around her idea). Thus the innovator, to effectively protect her idea, must strike a balance between a narrow and a broad patent claim.
  • Idea Diffusion - Finally, when the idea reaches the market, the innovator has to take a balanced approach to gain market acceptance. He has to strike a balance between (a) the value that his idea offers to the customer and (b) the extent of disruption that his idea creates for the customer. The customer wants to get more value buy maynot like if the new idea brings too much change in his life.
The need for balance pervades through all the phases of innovation. The successful innovator, like a Yogi, balances himself against opposing forces, The innovator's unshakeable equilbrium state helps him to focus on the innovation act.

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