Why It’s Becoming Harder To Innovate, And 2 Things To Make Innovation Easier12 September, 2019 / Articles
Here’s an industry secret: At its very core, when we strip away all the smoke and mirrors, the buzzwords and superlatives, innovation is really about belief and disbelief.
For example, if you believe the only way to hail a taxi is by standing on the curb and stretching your hand into the street, you will continue standing there hoping for a taxi to stop. However, the moment you start disbelieving that what everyone around you is doing is the only way to do it—this is the moment true innovation begins.
For you, the innovator, to move from belief to disbelief three things must happen:
- Access to the problem space: You and the problem need to cross paths. If you and the problem never meet, you will never know it exists.
- Access to technology: You need to have access to the technology, and talent, which can enable a solution.
- Disbelief: You need to be willing to think that the way things are currently done may not be the best or only way to do them. This is the start of innovation.
Over the last decade, the above three stars have aligned beautifully for startups and corporations alike. The combination of mobile phones, sensors, GPS, touchscreen and cloud accessibility has enabled everyday entrepreneurs to build micro solutions for macro problems. These innovators, or “disbelievers,” took their access to daily problems, such as booking a flight, communicating with a friend or hailing a taxi and leveraged the ecosystems of mobile to build, deliver and scale solutions. In short, innovators had access to the problem domains and access to the enabling tech to create the desired solutions.
Today, the stars do not seem to be aligning so well anymore, what has changed?
The enabling technology has shifted from mobile and web technologies to Deep Tech: IoT, AI, AR/VR, the blockchain and soon, quantum computing. The result of this shift is that innovators do not have the same easy access to the problem domains as they did before. Mobile and web solutions solved accessibility and communication problems. Common frictions to solve were things like: “How do I better connect with X?” ; “How do I have better access to Y?” ; “How can I complete tasks on my own?” ; “How do we remove the middle man for Z?”
Just by being a citizen in the world, innovators had the first-hand experience with these problems, and could thus disbelieve and innovate. For example, just by waiting in line at the bank, it was easy to experience the friction, and to be motivated to come up with a solution (App) to solve this friction.
Deep Tech, on the other hand, solves problems of a completely different nature in spaces most people don’t have access to, such as Industry 4.0, Smart Cities or Autonomous Vehicles . More specifically, Deep Tech solves “intelligent automation” type of problems where the question is no longer how to provide better access or communication, but how to make things like your car or bank account intelligent and operate autonomously without needing a person involved in the process.
Problems and solutions are now buried deeper underground
Since these types of problems are domain-specific, fewer people have easy access to them—nor do they to the enabling Deep Tech. This lack of access knocks out the first requirement of crossing paths with the problem and the final requirement of disbelieving. It also knocks out the requirement of access to (or experience building products with) the needed tech. This includes having access to the data needed to drive Deep Tech solutions or the necessary human talent that can use the required technologies to build a solution.
So, without having access to the problem space, how can innovators disbelieve? And without having access to the needed tech, how can they build solutions?
Access to the Problem
This new world requires new skills and knowledge. To connect the dots, you first need to make the dots. Every industry has problems. The first step is to find the people who are aware of what these problems are. To do this, leverage domain experts and spend time understanding what works and what doesn’t. As you do, you will be able to think more critically about what you see and whether or not you believe it. Can “X” be done in a better way? Can leveraging Deep Tech help solve a problem in a better way?
Access to the Tech
Everything is possible, but what’s possible now? If you have a deadline to solve a problem or ship a product, treat Deep Tech with caution. New technologies come with exciting promise, but may not always deliver. Be honest about the capabilities you have. Are you the type of company that can lift off the ground RnD projects, or are you a company with Engineering capabilities. Most companies (established and startups) fall into the second category. This means that you must rely on proven technologies to enable the solution you have in mind. Benchmark your planned outcome with solutions in the market which use similar tech to solve the same type of problem. Find proof that the tech is mature enough to deliver the goods and focus on what you, and only you, must develop. For the rest, collaborate with partners that create enabling technologies to gain access.