What Does It Take To Convert An Innovative Idea Into A Scalable Product?
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Innovation of any new product with the right intent clarifies a strategic directional mandate on how a company is going to finish first in the race using a steady performance engine and articulated by organizational leaders. The growth factor of any economy is driven by innovation and India for one has a lot of ground to cover if it has to compete globally.
While working at 3M, Minneapolis I realized the culture of Innovation. It is inspiring to know how 3M is always one of the top innovative companies year after year. Then comes the question, "Why can’t all type of companies, of any size, innovate, like 3M, Apple, Google etc.?" Then I collaborated with my childhood friend Sanjay to create a business platform which can facilitate innovation as a service helping all size companies to access technology for new Innovations.
It’s essentially a battle against time, and the most important part of attack is the planning!
There is a systemic doubt that evolves with time as an idea takes shape. Will the innovation work and meet the demands? Will it displace vested interest and disrupt current practice? My advice is to not doubt yourself. Just trust the planning strategy. A commitment to mutually reinforcing rules and marshalling coherent policies only helps promote alignment to the vision, offers clarity to objectives and priorities. The simple trick is to align innovation efforts with the company’s business strategies and more importantly- articulate it consistently.
It is often sad to see that despite massive investments of time and money, product innovation is the one thing that remains a frustrating pursuit due to the obvious obstacle of sustenance. Product innovation requires a coherent mind-set where you are capable of innovating in areas other than your own. Take for example the Crystal Pepsi fiasco of 1992. Marketed as a caffeine-free “clear alternative” to normal colas, offering clearness with purity and health, the revenue benefits were short lived and sales soon nosedived. Brands Chairman David C. Novak, credited with the concept later said in a 2007 interview, “I still think it’s the best idea I ever had, and the worst executed.”
The journey from idea to impact for an entrepreneur is a lonely path to walk on. However, even if you are digital startup or enterprise entrepreneur, any idea or a fledgling initiative should be put through some basic heuristics before it is pursued. In India there has been a stretching trend of adopting short term product innovation engines. Why not innovate products that bear the strength of time instead of something that can be quickly copied by a competitor negating any long term growth? It’s best to test yourself with these three little mantras:
- How different is the business model in terms of value proposition it offers to the economy compared to others in the market place?
- To generate real revenue, how many share increasing strategies remain to be tried out other than the ones already tried such as spin-offs, buy backs and other forms of financial engineering?
- Does the innovation generate insight, interactivity and emotional engagement that matters?
While innovation in new product development is key, equally important is innovation throughout all of the Company’s business functions and processes. For instance, Colgate Active Salt toothpaste is built on the traditional insight that salt is good for oral care. Once you are the first to get to the finishing line of the idea, there is none better to succeed you!
Necessity is the mother of invention
I take one of my ideals from Corning, world’s leading innovators by far in ceramic and glass. Here the motto is that necessity is the mother of invention and their passion for ideas is evidenced by the fact that more than 10% of their revenue is invested in just research and development. Gorilla Glass display, that covers the front of almost 3 Billion electronic devices and smartphones around the world is a Corning product. With a history of science based inventions, the company’s first industrial research lab was established as far back as 1908!
The most fundamental investment that India needs to make is to mould its workforce in R&D. World Bank Study says that India has fewer R&D professionals per million people than most nations: 160 compared with 710 in Brazil, 890 in China, 3,838 in the U.S., 3,950 in Germany, and 5,151 in Japan. The numbers are almost insignificant and require an educated workforce in order to make it compete internationally. Not only that, in order to achieve sustainable growth, it’s important that product innovation is better integrated with business model, process and service innovations as it’s a long term game and the execution of such strategies must recognize this type of temporal complexities. For example, Corning’s success with the Gorilla Glass was both a result of the strategy that allowed for the building of a huge technological advantage in advanced ceramics, and also of system wide policies that housed its institutional knowledge. Without the latter, it easily may have lost its technological possibilities or scaled down its technical competence to others in the playing field.
Admittedly strategies similar to Corning are not always feasible, just like there is no one system that fits all industries equally well or is functional under all circumstances. Long term strategies are risky. But there is nothing wrong in learning from Corning’s importance of a clearly articulated artificial innovation strategy. Without a capable strategy and alignment to the core value proposition of the company or the brand it offers, most initiatives with the potential to result in amazing innovations are rendered helpless and eventually are forgotten.