Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Innovate?

This was the question posed to me by a few of my friends working with a few Small to Medium firms. Here is the gist of their argument - "It is very difficult to predict and achieve success with innovative products. Sometimes an innovative product may not even be successful since the market is not ready or it is ahead of its times. Isn't it simpler to wait for your competitor to innovate and then if it is really good, we can copy it easily? Isn't this a smarter path?"

I know some of you also agree to these view points. So let me give you my take on this.

I do acknowledge that success by following the path of innovation is long winded and there are no guarantees about success. But ignoring this is even riskier. Let me explain. You can always be an follower when it comes to new products but there are couple of risks your organization is running which it needs to be aware of.

  1. If your competitor comes up with a innovation which is not simple to replicate quickly, then you could end up losing all your market share even taking your existing customers away from you.

  2. Every time your competitor comes up with an innovation, he/she gets the first mover advantage which results in getting new customers or maybe a few of your customers who are curious about the new discovery.

The only way to counter these points is by continuously innovating yourself. Note that you can have your own innovation team and still be done in by the above 2 factors. But chances are that over a period of time - it will even out, if you are consistent about innovation.

Another important factor to consider is the brand factor. Your customer is constantly judging and making conclusions of your brand. If you consistently don't innovate and end up just being a follower - you can rest assured that over a period of time, your customer will decide that he/she can't expect any innovation from your brand and will most probably switch to your competitor's brand.

Now that is a risk no company can afford to take.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

New Position at ideaken

Hi Everybody,

I have been using this blog to randomly blog about my ideas about innovations and how we can use technology to innovate.

This post is to officially disclose that I have now joined ideaken ( in a full time role as Director, Community Engagement. ideaken is a new start up which enables enterprises to do open innovation and co-creation activities through a SAAS enabled web platform. Please visit to learn more about ideaken and do register yourselves at ideaken. Registration is free and gives you an opportunity to participate in challenges for reward and recognition. So get on board now!

I will continue to post randomly in this blog and will try to be as neutral as possible when I continue posting on innovation in the future.

Thanks for your patronage and hope you continue to visit this blog.

I will also be posting occasionally at So please bookmark that as well and travel the journey with us as we embark on enabling organisations to do innovation and co-creation.

Feel free to send me your thoughts, comments or ideas. I can be reached at Thanks.



Thursday, January 28, 2010

Aiming big on Innovation Projects

Most innovation projects are guilty of coming up with some pre-requisites, which stifle it right from the beginning. These are the main ones that I have come across:

1. Aiming too small
2. Defining too many boundaries
3. Eliminating unconventional thinking

So why do enterprises do this? We could have a huge debate on this topic but it usually boils down to 2 big reasons:

1. Fear of Failure
2. Fear of change

So how do we overcome these obstacles and take the innovation forward? The only way, I believe, is to define huge goals and plan big. Why? Since when we define huge goals, it becomes difficult to set normal boundaries and force people to think in conventional means.

As an added benefit, people are generally not scared of failure at huge projects (As an example - Man took quite a long time before he could walk on Moon but while the feat was celebrated as a huge event, nobody prior to that felt like a failure since they could not achieve that goal).

The final point is about successes. When you have a huge success, that by itself makes all the failures and disappointments earlier worthwhile and motivates you to continue pursuing more success again.

So the next time, you define goals for your innovation project, check again!!!

Aim big and achieve more!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Open Innovation - What is the role of internal teams?

“If I practice Open Innovation, and get solutions to my problems from outside the company, then what does my internal team work on? How can I rely on outsiders to provide solutions to our company problems?” These were some of the questions that were posed to me when I was discussing Open Innovation with one of my class mates who was running his own business. Good question and I thought this needs further clarification – so here is my attempt.

It is a misconception that Open Innovation is the solution to all problems. Also it is very risky to rely only on Open Innovation to get answers to all your problems. Most of the problems we face at companies are filled with contextual information. This is generally information which only insiders or employees of that particular organisation understand. This could be either names of application software or hardware platforms being used or other specific information which may be unique. These cannot be exposed directly to the outside world due to security reasons and also since outsiders will not be able to appreciate the complexity involved. Hence there is quite some work in filtering this information and identifying the core problem for which you intend to seek outside help. This work needs to be done by the team inside the organisation since they are the only people who understand this. Only the core issue, stripped of any contextual information, should be identified and presented to the outside world for solutions/ideas. This has only been proven to get the desired results.

The most important and crucial phase is the realisation of ideas. Ideas or solution approaches are only the beginning. The actual work is in taking those to market successfully. There is a whole range of activities involved right from packaging to marketing to launch. These can only be done by employees within an organisation and not by outsiders even though the ideas for these again could be from outside.

So, in summary, if you were under the impression that you can just throw the entire problem over the wall and you will get some magical solutions shortly, it is time for you to do a reality check. Engaging the crowd and getting solutions from the outside world works but there is a lot of effort before the benefits can be realised for the companies posting their problems.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How do I start innovating?

Most entrepreneurs or senior managers I have spoken to all agree that innovation is both required and worth the effort but a common question is – How do we start or more importantly how do we identify the areas to focus on?

They have had many experiences in the past where they have sponsored many “innovation” project but they have nothing to show for it. So they are confused and have decided to stay away from it.

Fair point. So thought I will discuss more about this. At the outset, let me confess that there is no magic formula for this. Innovation by definition means that we are going to encounter failure. However the areas to innovate on should be defined pretty clearly and there is no scope for failure on those.

The worst thing that you can do is to initiate a innovation project based on a few journal articles you read or based on generic analysts reports. These will need further refining and unless you define the path properly, you are never going to achieve success with your innovation agenda.

The next best thing is to do it based on what your team believes. They do have a good knowledge of the product space but the risk is that they could be biased based on the existing product offering.

The best way to do this is to listen to your customers and derive the innovation requirements from them. Only one word of caution here – Don’t expect solutions from your customers but listen carefully to the requirements and their current pain areas.

Once you have defined the areas where you want to focus your innovation efforts on, next make a plan on the status quo in that area and identify the main challenges – even at this stage – stay away from getting into complete solutioning mode – the aim is just to scratch the surface and identify areas to delve deeper into.

Finally identify different areas where you need to formulate task groups or teams to dig deeper and look for solutions.

During solutioning mode, please ensure that you get your best people to look at it. The more diverse the interests of the people who look at it, the better the chances of getting creative ideas, which has been proven to increase the success ratio. Ideally (unless you have confidentiality and proprietary reasons), try to get some outside solutions also either through partners, customers or even the outside world in general. Outside people bring in a freshness and unbiased thinking which is difficult to substitute internally. Obviously you need to define some incentives which makes this interesting and appealing to outside folks.

That is it!!! When done systematically, you should get responses unless you have not defined your problem statement clearly enough. Persevere based on feedback and you will get the responses that you expect.

Remember that it is equally important to have a good way of judging solutions when they start to come in. If you are exposing this to the outside world, you can get overwhelmed with solutions. So ensure that you define a process for rating the solutions and taking this forward appropriately.

Hope this helps companies get started with their innovation efforts. Remember the name of the game is perseverance and patience. Success will come but only to those who persevere (like most things in life!!!)

Enjoy the journey!!!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Can you innovate from your comfort zone?

Is it possible to innovate from your comfort zone? This was the question I was thinking over this weekend. I had just watched a movie which had a typical “rags to riches” story and the hero in the end made a statement or an observation that he did not think he could have achieved all of this if not for the initial hardships that he faced. That set me thinking. Isn’t that genuinely true for any major innovation of our times? Or of companies which were responsible for those innovations? So what do you think? I think it is really very difficult to innovate from your comfort zone.

Now – I must clarify that I am not talking of incremental innovation but of the truly blue sky or path-breaking innovation. It is really difficult to forget your status quo and truly innovate. It is much simpler and convenient to make slight changes in your established product or offering and tout that as innovation. There is nothing wrong in this approach except that it is not fulfilling. It is like half stretching an elastic band and feeling satisfied.

So – is there a way out?

Frankly the best approach is to get some outsiders to have a look at your problem and your world. This is the quickest and the best way to get new ideas and shake people out from their comfort zones. Traditionally companies have been doing this by bringing in consultants to review and make recommendations. While this works to an extent, there is always a danger of not doing it completely. Ideally the best approach is to give the problem in a complete form to either partners or even the outside world and evaluate end to end solutions. These can then be fitted into company specific processes and released to the market with some final tweaking.

Crowdsourcing or Open Innovation is the name given to companies who follow this approach. There are many companies who have achieved good progress by following this.

Try it. It may change the way you approach your problems the next time round.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Are you experimenting enough?

How many of your company projects failed last year due to technology or business reasons and since they were being tried ahead of their times? Note that project failures due to poor execution or people management issues don’t count in the above list. If the answer is none and if you are proud about it, think again - Are you actually playing it too safe?

It takes a lot of courage to try and do projects that are innovative and being attempted for the first time. There are just too many obstacles – critics who are quick to point out why it will never work, “experienced” leaders who don’t want to associate themselves with failures, Business Analysts who just are not able to think outside the boundaries they are used to. So literally the odds are stacked against it right from the start. However, these are the kind of projects worth doing. So if you are the top leader in your organisation, these are the projects you should be tracking. The larger your organisation, the more difficult it is to run such projects.

So why does this matter? Simply - because your customers deserve it. Remember your first paying customer. How happy would he feel if you are the first to market a new feature than your competitor who is more priced than you? Because your brand deserves it. People tend to remember and associate innovative brands even better. Finally your employees deserve it. Employees love the space and fulfilment of working on projects based on innovation. The challenge gives them an incomparable high and makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Oh… and by the way – typically 1 out of 3 true innovation projects fail. Is that bad? NO. I would say that as long as there are lessons learned and the failure happens rather fast in the project life cycle, it is good. It is important however that the people associated with these projects are not treated as “failures”.

Let me leave you with this famous saying – “A ship in the harbour is safe but that’s not what ships are built for”. Similarly you can just stick to the tried out feature list but that is not what your customer is expecting from you. Every once in a while, you should be prepared to try out different things even if it means you may not succeed. Remember – nothing ventured, nothing gained
Alltop, all the cool kids (and me)

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