Being innovative is sooooo misunderstood that I feel strongly pulled to write this.
My clinching trigger came after watching how the committees for deciding ‘Most innovation person or product’ are formed. Look at any and you’ll find them packed with highly technical people. As though innovation is a function of high technology! Definitely not.
Why is the ministry of Science & Technology the nodal agency for innovation in the country? Why does on hear more about innovation in IITs than in IIMs? Quite stupid and self defeating.
Making things go faster or reach deeper is NOT innovation. It is just better science and technology. Not that better science and technology is to be undervalued but there must be a realization that however valuable it may be it is certainly not a game changer.
Why is it not a game changer? It is because what we value is competitive advantage – something that comes by effort which is not common. Development of science and technology is common and predictable. It rolls on by itself – not be special effort. It has a life of its own.
Does that mean that we should not put in efforts to make things go faster or deeper? No, that’s not what I am saying.
There’s a time and tide for everything. In the lifecycle of a product, there’s a phase when things can be made to go faster and deeper. At that point in the phase, Lean and 6 Sigma are the right strategies, innovation is not.
But there comes a time when it simple won’t get any faster or deeper. Why? That’s the idea of S-curves.
Plot the performance of any product against time and you’ll find an S-curve like this. Initially (Stage 1 – Emergence), performance does not improve much with passage of time. Then (stage 2- Rapid improvement), performance starts improvement rapidly. This is followed by phase 3 (Declining improvement) in which the pace of improvement slows down. This is followed by Phase 4 (Maturity ) in which there is practically no improvement in performance despite investment of resources .This tells us that, in phases 2 and 3, we should rely on Lean, 6 Sigma and other efficiency oriented systems.
Why does improvement start declining? What’s the problem? If something can be done to reverse that problem, the product gets a new lease of life and a new S curve starts.
Look at this example. Much before the first curve (on the left) has started to flatten out, development work on the next generation of product (indicated by the second curve on the right) has started. 
But how does one get to the second generation of the product? Not merely be applying more science. That is so because the curve has already started flattening out. Why is science not able to help any more? It is so because of some inherent contradiction.
A contradiction is when aspects start opposing each other. Science and technology can definitely help you improve some aspect of the product e.g. speed of a car but now something else in the product is getting deteriorated such that it offsets the gains made. If you increase the speed any more, which you can, maneuverability and material stability starts declining at such an unacceptable rate that it is no longer worth it.
Obviously this is happening because there is some linkage between what is improving (speed ) and what is deteriorating (maneuverability, material). Something is coming up and blocking further gains of science.
Innovation lies in discovering that link and severing it. That’s all that innovation does and this is something that is doable only by innovation, not science.
Innovation- if it is to be game changer and provide real competitive advantage to business – can only come by good thinkers, not technologists.
Within the various disciplines of innovation, is there any branch which specifically deals with locating and resolving conflicts? Yes – it is TRIZ.
Check out more on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *