entreSociety

Building an entrepreneurial society

Archive for the tag “Innovation”

How to look at innovation from a user’s viewpoint

When we are developing ideas for innovation we often identify opportunities in isolated situations.  We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the end user and determine how they might make the decision whether to use our product or not.

For example, I worked with a group of entrepreneurs trying to decide how to apply wireless technology and sensors in a hospital environment.  There are a multitude of opportunities for this application in hospitals.  We set out describing a number of possibilities as though none of those solutions currently existed.  In fact there were quite a number of these concepts already available or in development.  What was needed was a way to identify gaps or opportunities to link solutions together.

What we should have done was to look from the perspective of a user in the hospital eco-system perspective and determine what they needed to do, what solutions were currently available or in development and what gaps existed.  Using this approach would create opportunities for applications but would also identify how they fit into the overall solution and who we could work with in getting adoption.

This approach might also enable us to become a distribution channel for solutions that are having a difficult time fitting into the current structure.  A combination of individual solutions taken together in an infrastructure could have a greater chance of success than any of the individual solutions.

As Clayton Christensen has pointed out, people hire products and services to do jobs.  If we look closely at those jobs and the people doing them we start to understand where opportunities lie and how to develop solutions.  This analysis also helps us to find our early adopters and product champions because they need the solution the most.

When big companies don’t innovate entrepreneurs need to

There are some unusual paradoxes taking place in the world these days.  We see massive unemployment and underemployment coupled with big companies making big profits and build up piles of cash.  But they aren’t using these cash reserves to fund innovation they are sitting on them letting them go idle.  If these companies are aren’t going to use these funds to build value they should distribute them where they can be redeployed.  We need to find a way to get them into the hands of entrepreneurs who will innovate.

That brings us to another paradox.  I often hear that there are more investment funds available than there are good ideas.  Yet we have so many problems in society that entrepreneurs can solve and more people than ever who want to purse entrepreneurship.  Maybe we need to combine those funds with a better support system for entrepreneurs.  An economy full of entrepreneurs creating new ventures, solving problems and employing people is how a market is supposed to function.

It is critical to build this entrepreneurial society for another reason.  When there are few alternatives available excess funds flood into the stock market or real estate where they push up price resulting in bubbles.  When the bubbles burst this value disappears from the economy.  We have to make investing in entrepreneurs more attractive than the alternatives.

As someone that believes in free markets it pains me to suggest that society may need to take steps to free up this idle cash.  If the markets won’t function as they should and allocate capital efficiently then we need to tax it away and redistribute it in other ways.  It is not ideal but if business won’t create value through innovation that benefits the society where they earned the profits then we need to find people who will.

 

Business model versus technology innovation

When you mention innovation people often jump straight to R&D and think about the development of technology breakthroughs.  The key measurement often used is the amount of R&D spending per employee or number of patents.  While these are interesting measures they don’t tell the whole story.  The true questions is how much money does the company make from products using these technology breakthroughs?  Does the company make money from new products and processes or are the usually extensions of existing products?  Clearly, just spending money on R&D and filing patents does not alone make a company innovative. 

A difficulty entrepreneurs have with technology innovation is that it often requires deep technical skills in science and engineering and large funding commitments.  Further, much of the R&D spending fails to produce successful breakthroughs or take years to do so.  However, there is another type of innovation that is available to anyone and that is business model innovation.  This type of innovation involves establishing a form of business structure that serves a market in a unique way.   To use some of the terms from prior posts, the business model helps customers with their jobs to be done in a way that is disruptive to the market.

Many people believe that the technology exists today to solve most of the jobs to be done in the world, both big and small.  Whether or not you believe this is true you, have to agree that there is more technology available than people are able to use to its full potential.  There is also more data being produced than we are able to process effectively.  Entrepreneurs can find ways to tie some of these technologies and information together in ways that have not been tried before through business model innovation.  This new business model might create the ability to offer a product or service at a cost new customers can afford, the creation of a distribution channel that opens up information or services to previously unreachable markets or the simplification of complex products for less sophisticated users.

Some ventures could use a combination of both technology and business model innovation.  The entrepreneur could find a job to be done that can be improved, determine how to deliver the service and then build some software or other technologies to suit the business model.  Another person could use an existing technology, develop a business model to utilize it and then customize the technology to fit the business.

The power of business model innovation, in combination with the jobs to be done and disruption, is that they are often hard to replicate.  Technology, on the other hand can be leapfrogged, making it instantly a commodity or obsolete.   A business model can be designed in a way to swap in advances in a technology further enhancing the model.  

The important takeaway from this post is that an entrepreneurial venture does not mean having to conduct R&D, take big risks and create a technology breakthrough.  The most efficient first step is to look at what technology already exists and determine how it could be used in a unique way to solve a customer’s job to be done.  Avoid the idea that you have to create your own technology all of the time.  Even if you succeed in building something that is better than what is out there it may not be worth the money invested or the delay in launching the product or service.     

What kind of innovation is it? Increasing the chances of success.

There is a step we need to consider before we make a final decision on the product and the target customers.  We need to determine if the product will be a sustaining or a disruptive innovation.  I will once again use the concepts developed by Clay Christensen.  In future posts I will integrate concepts from multiple sources and my experience.  However the distinction between sustaining and disruptive innovations is the major breakthrough Christensen developed in his work and there is no other predictive theory that captures it as well.

A sustaining innovation is one that “targets demanding, high end customers with better performance than what was previously available.”  In this instance a company is adding features and functionality to an existing product that is being sold to its existing customers.  The jobs to be done for these customers are already being addressed.

Disruptive innovations are “simpler, more convenient, and less expensive products that appeal to new or less demanding customers.”  That is, customers whose jobs to be done are not currently being addressed by existing products in the marketplace.

The important things to note here is that the incumbents never lose in a sustaining innovation fight and almost never win a disruptive innovation fight.  In fact, the incumbents will often abandon a lower value market to a new entrant with a disruptive product so they can focus on their higher value customers.  If your job to be done is an improvement to an existing product that is serving an established customer base it is a sustaining innovation and you will fail.  You need to ensure that your product is a disruptive innovation.

There are two groups of disruptive innovations.  The first is low end disruption where a cheaper and less functional product is offered to a set of customers that don’t need the functionality of the existing product and will be happy to pay a lower price.  You need to determine if you are able to offer this product at a cost where you can make a profit.  Over time the disruptive product will improve its functionality until it will be attractive even for the incumbent’s customers.  However the disrupting company will be able to meet the needs of this market at a lower cost structure.  The incumbent will not have the ability to lower its cost base and will lose the customer base.

New market disruption is the second type of disruptive innovation.  This type of disruption targets customers that targets people that do not use any product or service for their job to do because they do not have the expertise to use the existing products in the market or cannot afford the cost.  They may also avoid the existing offerings if they are not convenient to use.

A disruption may also be a combination of the low and new market variety.  Low end customers of an existing product may move to the less expensive or complex product and a new group of customers will be brought into the market.

In the previous post we determined that the starting point was to find a customer job to done that we could address with a product or service.  In this post we qualify that selection by ensuring that the product or service is a disruptive innovation and does not try to take on an existing competitor in their area of dominance.  From there we can identify the initial customer and design the launch product.

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