In a class that I teach on innovation, the students and I typically run through an exercise of “Who’s the customer? -> What’s her pain point? or need?” -> “What is our innovation to solve this?” Sometimes we do it the other way, starting with our innovation, what pain point it solves and who is this a pain (or need) for?
So when it was time to talk about LED bulbs, as an innovation, the class easily had a plethora of answers for who and what (longer life, lower cost of ownership, environmentally conscious.) When I asked “What if we add Bluetooth to the LED bulb?” the answers came on just as fast and furious—”I don’t have to get out of bed to turn if off,” “I can control at home remotely”.) So the consensus was clear that this was an innovation (ie “creates new value” for one or more target segments)
Now came the question, “How do we reset such a Bluetooth-enabled LED bulb to its factory settings?” (never mind, nearly 20 years since we began using BT we still need to periodically reset things, cause their state gets messed up).
Here was GE Lighting’s solution to this problem—this is their actual video and not a spoof, of which there are several built based on this real video.
Watching this video even the first time was painful and for the nth time (with each section of the class I teach) it required some measure of teeth-gritting. Yet, as an optimist I sought the silver lining—they were clear what the pain point their (paying) customers faced, but the cure seemed just as bad as the disease. While some commenters on YouTube felt this was engineering (within GE) wreaking vengeance on marketing (or product management) not allowing them a reset button, it is the customer who has to pay the price. Some takeaways for me include:
The original solution (or specification) not accounting for end-user resets (should this be even required?) tells me that the use cases (certainly corner cases) hadn’t been thought through
The sheer complexity (not to mention mind-numbing) nature of the solution makes it clear that end-user inputs or consideration were not taken into account
While a good deal of engineering creativity (& cost) I suspect went into this solution, likely due to product design or legacy constraints, the sheer number of spoof videos shows that the brand (and likely product adoption) has taken a hit, that far outweighs any of the cost considerations that may have limited either the original design or the subsequent reset sequence.
Innovators too need their own version of the Hippocratic oath, “…I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.”
Yesterday I was part of a panel discussion on innovation and entrepreneurship at the opening of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Center (IEDC) at the Dayanand Sagar College of Engineering. One of the first questions the moderator posed was “How does one create a culture of innovation and what role does leadership play?”
To me this is not that different from the question, How does one create a culture of ______ (fill in the blank) – for instance courtesy and consideration. You start by being polite – kind and courteous. Similarly creating a culture of innovation within our companies, divisions or teams is to start by being innovative. What does that mean?
To me it means three things
a] INSPIRE Talk about, share and celebrate innovation – set aside time, whether a Friday lunch or before your weekly team meeting to show what you mean by innovation. Bring in a mechanical water sprinkler and share with your team why you think it is innovative or better yet ask them what is innovative about it. A clasp on someone’s chain, a pain-free blood sugar measurement tool – in other words – “the ordinary” and the extraordinary that’s around us every day. Allows you to discuss and develop a shared sense of what is innovation and over the common misconception that only a cure for cancer can be innovation. Over time this can be things that your own team or company are innovated, but don’t wait for it to be done in-house
b] MEASURE Put in a process, where the team can spend time focusing on problems – which allow scope for innovation – could be in technology, internal processes or methods or any other function within your business. Intuit for instance created a process for employees to share ideas and seek inputs which has eventually become a product they now offer their customers. And most importantly put in measures — only that which gets measured will get done. So when you talk about it, ask about it, measure it, everyone begins to pay attention to it and that’s how a culture of caring about innovation gets slowly built up.
c] REWARD & RECOGNIZE Nothing works like recognizing the work people are doing and rewarding innovative behavior. A critical element here is not to celebrate success alone or what is commonly perceived as success – ie a new product that launches or a new idea that’s implemented, but to recognize and reward risk taking. Unless we create a culture within our companies of tolerating mistakes and viewing them as a way to learn and do better, it will be very hard to create a culture of innovation. As Gordon Moore, founder of Intel put it “I view this year’s failure as next year’s opportunity to try it again. Failures are not something to be avoided. You want to have them happen as quickly as you can so you can make progress rapidly.”
Over the last several years, I have written about startups, entrepreneurship and business in general in the Hindu BizLine and Wall St. Journal. I have compiled these for easy access in the column below.