What is the first thing that comes to your mind when posed with the question
“What is Innovation”?
Some would say that innovation is something new and useful; some would say that something that solves the problem in the most efficient manner is an innovation; some others would say that something that is way ahead of its time is an innovation. Indeed, they are all true. But for an entrepreneur like me, innovation simply means what is shown in the figure.
Innovation is different from invention in the sense that innovation is the commercialization of an invention. Anything that is only useful to you and can’t be used by others is not an innovation. Innovation can be in 5 forms:
- New Product
- New Process
- New Markets
- New Way of Organizing Business
- New Sources of Supply
Here we see the process of innovation in form of six ‘I’s:
Innovation is not merely a lucky flash of inspiration but, surely, behind every innovation lies an inspiration – be it from living or non-living, live or dead, your daily routine or problems facing the world. If you don’t get an inspiration, create one. Ask yourself questions like “Why do we do a certain thing in a certain manner only”, “What if I were the consumer of my own product”, “How can I reduce cost or increase profits”, etc.
Ratan Tata said quoting the world’s cheapest car, Nano, at a symposium at Cornell University, “What really motivated me, and sparked a desire to produce such a vehicle, was constantly seeing Indian families riding on scooters, four or five on a scooter, maybe the child sandwiched between the mother and father, riding to wherever they were going, often on slippery roads in the dark." This concern kept him going and the result has won him many accolades.
Inspiration leads to ideation and brainstorming. Ideation is the creative process of generating and developing new ideas so as to convert your inspiration into innovation. Brainstorming with wise people is probably the best tool to check whether an idea is worthy. And sometimes, the idea may face criticism or turn out to be a source of laughter.
When Steve Jobs thought of making a phone with only one button, his engineers kept telling him that it was impossible for a phone to have only one button. You could not turn it on and off, control the volume, switch between functions and go on the Internet, if you had only a single control button. Steve Jobs was deaf to their complaints and would only say “Figure it out”. The result we all know – iPhone!!!
It requires a great deal of courage to initiate. Many a times, people start working on a good idea but leave it in between because of initial failures. Only passion and dedication to the original inspiration can keep one hooked on to the idea. In the course, one might need to change the strategy and sometimes the idea itself.
Myspace, hi5 and Orkut came before Facebook was launched. Today, even the combined user base of all these three networking sites is way less than Facebook’s more than 800 million users. Facebook came with simpler features and constantly kept updating features. It allowed support for third-party applications, video calling in collaboration with Skype, the recent Timeline feature, etc. We don’t find all these together in other sites. It’s easier to find old-friends on Facebook than on other sites.
Finally the idea that came out because of the inspiration sees the day of the light. This invention might undergo many revisions before it is made available to the public. It may either get appreciation or admonition. Marketing efforts would be involved to make people know about this invention and hence commercialization of the invention is still a step away.
Windshield wipers were invented by real estate developer and rancher Mary Anderson. She lived in New York and noticed that the trolley car which she rode had an open front windshield. Although the open window was necessary to allow the driver to see the road under falling rain or snow but it was a pain for the passengers freezing inside. She invented windshield wiper featuring a rubber blade connected to a spring-loaded arm that could move across the windshield to clear snow, ice and rain. She patented it and attempted to sell the rights. However, her potential buyer didn’t feel the idea would ever amount to anything and declined. Today it’s difficult to find any four-wheeler without windshield wipers!!
Not all ideas that are turned into inventions make money. Some may fail disastrously and some may pave way for newer inventions. Some inventions make money by targeting a niche while others make by targeting the common masses.
We all credit Thomas Edison with the invention of electric light bulb (in 1879). But little do we know that the first electric light was invented by English scientist Humphry Davy in 1800 but it couldn’t be commercialized. After many people tried during these eight decades, Thomas Edison tried thousands of different filaments to find just the right materials to glow well and last long. He once said, “I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. In his first successful test, he was able to invent a bulb that could last for 13.5 hours and eventually developed a bulb that could last for over 1200 hours. On commercialisation he said,
“Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”
An organization that constantly strives to be innovative finds that, in time, what was once an innovation is obsolete now. The organisation may seek to bring continuous improvements to this product / service or completely abandon the same and move on to doing something new. The process of innovation in the form of six ‘I’s is repeated.
For millions of poor Indians, cataract meant blindness until Aravind eye care hospital came into being. Cataract operation in the US costs around $2500 to $3000 and even in an Indian hospital the cost comes to around $300. For a country like India where most people, especially in rural areas, live on less than $2 a day such a price is not affordable. This led Aravind eye care to devise an operation to treat patients for an average of $25, while treating almost 60% patients for free. Today, it’s the largest and the most productive eye care facility in the world. They gradually shifted from being just hospitals to eye care systems by having a dedicated factory for producing lenses, a training centre to provide key skills, specialist ophthalmic research centres, and an international eye bank.
If you just take time to think how things can be changed, innovations can happen.
[This guest post is written by Ashish Chowdhary. An entrepreneur himself, he has deep interest in cutting-edge Technology, Entrepreneurship, Mobile Apps & Innovation]