The innovation Shark

I had to give a presentation about innovation yesterday.

Innovation is a tricky subject: you run the risk of talking a lot without really saying anything. I mean, besides wowing the audience with cool examples of what’s coming, or what’s cool today, the REAL challenge of the speaker is to help the audience use the information. Rethink their problems. Find new applications and solutions.

And this is where it gets interesting, because it implies that the speaker adds some value besides bringing examples and recycling information.

Sometimes a SIMPLE Framework is a good idea. People create frameworks to organize and understand information. However, often times frameworks become too complicated and defeat the purpose of their existence (i.e. the problem becomes understanding the framework and not the underlying issue). Here is an example of a simple strategic framework for innovation. (It works better when you use examples that are customized to the audience).

1) Existing technology today defines the potential for commercial applications tomorrow. Example: Augmented reality and the whole idea of 6th sense. As technology makes physical environment clickable, the potential for commercial applications goes to infinity. Practical applications today are still limited. Hundreds of new startups will emerge and disappear because their solutions were either too strange, too complicated or just too early. But new business models will appear and some applications will make it to the next level.

2) The intersection of technology and culture helps us understand which applications will gain momentum.

Example: We live in times of change where consumers tend to rethink conventional wisdom. Services that offer immediate solutions/gratification are hot. Think for example: conventional wisdom suggests that managing your finances is complicated and boring. But it takes Mint 2 minutes to gather ALL your information from ALL your banks/cards/loands/etc ALL in one place. The results are really impressive.

We didn’t have the technology to do that 10 years ago. But more importantly, we weren’t ready, culturally or socially to accept something like this. We are now, and the fact that technology enables it is a huge inertia breaker.

3) Addressing real needs in simple, intuitive ways is the final step before something becomes mainstream. Often times, the service that will introduce a technology will die before the market is created. Then another product will be launched in a way and timing that is culturally relevant. But then, maybe, yet another product will come and optimize the solution in a way that better addresses consumer needs.

I have been blessed to work on all the stages of this journey: from the early, pre revenue startups, to the hot product that takes off and creates a new market, to the large established brand that comes late in the game, but still takes a leadership position by optimizing an existing solution. The interesting thing is that the journey never ends. A new cycle begins almost immediately after the previous one, making existing solutions obsolete. Businesses run the same risk. Which is why people like me give presentations about innovation. There. I came full circle.