Think Deep, Innovate Fast & Execute Lean – Unleash the potential of innovation to build successful companies
About a year ago, I was in Munich for the WFEB’s first global conference on Ethics in Innovation. They invited me to give a speech based on my research and experience in Innovation Enablement. As I prepared, I found myself drawn to my roots. There was this pressing issue I just had to talk about, and Munich was a perfect platform.
A Global Challenge
You see, my father is a farmer. When I was growing up, he worked with the government to advise farmers. After retiring, he became a farmer himself. In our family, where his Bay Area son discusses technology, my father talks about farm productivity; and where I am excited about the Internet of Things, his focus is on human values. From our family discussions, I was all too aware of the serious issues faced by farmers in my country. I knew two things:
- Similar challenges are faced by agriculture across emerging economies, and
- By 2050, with 9.7 billion mouths to feed, this is going to be a global issue
I was going to have the attention of over 300 global thinkers and diverse leading experts discussing innovation.
In my line of work, helping Silicon Valley startups create IP and differentiators, I see how immense technological advances play a role in innovation. As Dr. Shankar Venugopal – technology leader, prolific inventor, and innovation coach – points out, multiple exponentially-growing disruptive technologies are approaching convergence, lifting the limits of what is possible. So, in my speech, I made the case for an AI-enabled food distribution system.
I have been told, this idea sounds like fantasy to the average person. My response is: The very tools we use to help startups build differentiators and create value – these same innovation enablers – make it feasible to transform this “ideal dream solution” into reality. Let’s see how this can be achieved. But to understand this better, let’s first establish some essential perspective.
What Innovation Enablers Do
My clients are startups from Silicon Valley and India. They cannot afford innovation to be a singular event. They need us to embed innovation into a process that is both repeatable and successful. Their questions include: How do we address the possibility that we may plateau at some point? How to provision for competitors like Rocket Internet who can replicate our idea and make it bigger or exploit our next market? Can we plan for innovations to consistently generate a majority of our revenue like Apple or Google? Can we create value for the ecosystem?
We tackle our clients’ need as a three-fold problem on how to: DIFFERENTIATE their offering, create VALUE, and BUILD a COMPANY that sustains innovation. This approach addresses their questions and validates lessons from the playbooks of successful entrepreneurs. Uber’s success lay in differentiating by combining the benefits of disjoint sectors: it harnesses an online transactional platform to deliver cab-rides. As competitors catch up, it faces a need to differentiate fast and create value for its ecosystem. Companies like Rocket Internet succeed, because they accelerate ideas and capture opportunity as a process. Apple and Google earn over 80% revenue from innovations, because for them, creativity is a process that goes beyond innovation management solutions like idea repositories, idea rating, or the 20% effort for innovation. By investing in innovation enablers, you don’t have to build-fail-repeat to reach your sweet spot – you can get there more efficiently, conserving your budget to create value instead.
We coach entrepreneurs to Think Deep. As part of this process, they:
- Reflect on their values,
- Find their purpose,
- Focus on the problem,
- Elevate their ideas,
- Validate and prioritize ideas
- Define a dream solution and strategic intent,
- Think exponentially,
- Build creative freedom into the startup culture
- Embed scaling at conception, and
- Define a long-term roadmap
This enables us to setup a process by which they can Innovate Fast, catalyzing their ability to:
- Identify opportunities,
- Create unfair competitive advantages through product differentiation and IP creation,
- Create outcomes,
- Accelerate innovation by sifting through innovation patterns, repositories, and networks,
- Create value across the ecosystem to build business differentiation, and
- Create categories and the potential for category leadership
We collaborate to define a strategy to Execute Lean which includes:
- Building low cost experiments
- Defining a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
- Identifying a Minimum Awesome Product (MAP) – a minimum incredible product to release for consumers
- Achieving the Product-Market fit that will help them acquire users
- Planning execution discipline, and
- Identifying small-term goals to continue achieving differentiation
In structuring our approach around these three pillars of innovation enablement: Think Deep, Innovate Fast, and Execute Lean, we create an innovation machine that aligns with a startup’s goals to DIFFERENTIATE ideas (thereby creating product differentiation, business differentiation, and unfair competitive advantage), to create VALUE, and to build a COMPANY where innovation sustains itself.
More importantly, structuring our goals around this three-pillared process – Think Deep, Innovate Fast, and Execute Lean – is an approach that is scalable and predictably enables and creates innovations.
Scaling Innovation Enablement for Global Good
Now that we share this perspective, let’s examine our problem of global agricultural challenges through this lens.
By Thinking Deep:
We focus our lens on the problem and realize:
- Agriculture is climate dependent
- Poor enabling infrastructure like storage and logistics leads to losses
- Too many people are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood
- Farmers are at the mercy of middlemen
- The unorganized market ecosystem exploits the producer
- Informal credit – at high rates of interest leads to the financial oppression of farmers
- Overall, farmers have an adverse quality of life
Further, our purpose is to define a long-term roadmap that creates value for the entire ecosystem. Let’s examine the problem from the perspective of all stakeholders in the ecosystem:
You will notice the following contradictions and conflicts in these needs and opportunities:
- Increased or mass production vs. Environmental sustainability
- More revenue to the market vs. fair price expectation by producer and consumer
- Automation vs. surplus labor availability
- Cash crops vs. food crops
- Subsidies or waivers vs. fiscal health
- Distortion between big corporate innovations vs. grassroots innovators
The ideal dream solution can, therefore, be defined as one where:
- Consumers get quality produce
- Farmers get quality of life
- The market gets profit maximization
- The government functions as a welfare state, and
- The earth and environment enjoy the benefits of sustainability
If you dare to elevate your idea to a level 3 or 4 of ideation, the AI-enabled solution I had posited earlier, would look something like this in a Dream Solution, with 4 nodes programmed to communicate with each other to create an optimal, balanced ecosystem.
In terms of Innovating Fast:
Collaboration between the network of innovation experts to share existing innovations and innovation patterns can allow for the convergence of their disruptive solutions to provide a solution that creates value for the greater global ecosystem.
Parts of the solution are already available. There have been significant innovations in terms of:
- self-care agrinet precision farming (a combination of AI and IoT)
- intelligent crop management solutions,
- smart storage solutions,
- auto-farming (where tractors know where to plow), and
- soil moisture management (John Deere and Mahindra have been working on this independently using IoT)
Just as Identifying Opportunities can lead to differentiation and IP creation, the opening up of AI, out of a walled-garden and into a public park will be a strategic move to further stimulate the ability of collaborators to innovate fast and create patentable differentiations. This would work out much like Tesla’s and Toyota’s moves to share their electric car and hybrid car technologies, and their strategy to generate benefits to their ecosystems helped with the acceleration of growth in their sectors, creating a prominent market sector for themselves in place of what was once a niche market for them.
The discipline to Execute Lean has the potential to generate incremental progress by breaking the larger goals into smaller achievable ones. Low-cost experiments can eliminate the need for huge financial buffers to cushion rapid failures, leading to value-generating progress for stakeholders and shareholders alike, encouraging investment in the sector.
“Think Deep, Innovate Fast, and Execute Lean” is an innovation enablement process born out of years of experience and research. Coupled with ienabler software, it has proved itself successful time and again at various scales, enabling both successful entrepreneurs and enterprises to create disruptive innovations with an unfair competitive advantage. Using this process, we have helped companies build business differentiation, product differentiation, and opportunities for incremental innovation into their roadmaps. Applied to solutions for global problems, this approach has the potential to unleash a better tomorrow much sooner than we can imagine.
As an outcome of this speech, it has been humbling to discuss these possibilities with people who matter. Among the global solutions, we have discussed is the creation of value in the healthcare and insurance ecosystem. As an innovation researcher, I am always interested in hearing the ideas that dreamers and entrepreneurs have to share. You are welcome to write to me at [email protected].
Sridhar DP is a senior industry advisor on innovation enablement and moonshot thinking. He is the Founder & Chief Integrator at Innovation Enabler, a strategy collaborator for startups and enterprises seeking to: build unfair competitive advantages, create stakeholder value, and define processes that generate innovation and intellectual property. He has led Management-level Consulting assignments in Telecommunications, Energy, Manufacturing, and Healthcare. Sridhar holds Executive MBA from IIMB, Innovation & IP from IISc, Bangalore. He writes at https://www.ienabler.co/blogs/.