When developing an innovation a key question is, what value does this new product or process bring to the user? The next question then becomes what is value? Often when we talk about value, we talk about monetary value. How much does this cost or how much is this worth? For an innovation, value can be measured by asking will it be used or does it have utility? Edison described it this way, “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”
Edison learned early on that to create something that would sell you had to bring enough value to customers that they would be willing to purchase the product. While this may seem like a simple concept, it is sometimes over looked. Many seemingly great ideas do not make it to market because they do not reach a good balance between cost and value. Often to make it work you either have to find a way to lower the cost or raise the value. Being able to do this effectively is what often separates a good invention from an innovation.
The short video below illustrates this principle. An Australian company is developing a product that can capture the energy from ocean waves and convert it into electricity. Unlike other approaches to this, their system is underwater and does not interfere with the view of the ocean or ships. The video talks about some of the advantages of the product but then at the end it makes the most important observation. It says that the company believes that it can be cost effective if deployed in a large enough scale. While we would all like to see clean energy such as this, at the end of the day it will only be adopted when the cost is competitive with other sources of energy.
When you work on your innovation keep the concepts of cost and value in mind every step of the way. This mindset will keep you on the wave of innovation and may be the key to your success.
It is amazing how somethings can catch on quickly and other ideas can be slow to be adopted. The game Pokémon GO has become a phenomenon that is suddenly part of our collective consciousness. In less than a week from its release, I was able to use it as an example of an innovation and everyone in the room, ages ranging from 20s to 70s, knew what it was.
The game is a remarkable combination of technologies that gets people that play electronic games off the couch and out into the real world, or at least a world with Augmented Reality. With Augmented Reality you combine the actual world with the electronic world. So instead of playing by just staring at a screen, you look at the world in which you live in but it also includes electronic creatures that you can capture and train. You may find a Pokémon in your house, but to successfully play the game you need to get out, take a walk and maybe even go to the park.
While this innovation may just seem like a toy, it has other applications that can enhance many areas of our lives. Imagine being in a foreign county and being able to look through your phone, or some type of electronic glasses, and all the signs are translated into your native language. Or looking and seeing the historical background of the place you are visiting. It could show the ratings and prices on the front door of a restaurant you are considering.
Some of the applications could be industrial. Imagine looking at a piece of machinery through your device and being able to see the parts list, repair manual and maintenance records. It might even guide you step by step through problem diagnosis and repair process. For now, it may just be a game, but in the future the benefits of Augmented Reality will be very real.
So when you see the kids, and many adults, walking around outside they are not just playing a game, they are using an innovation. If you think about all the options for innovation that we have before us, it may be following in the footsteps of a game that helps make your innovation GO.
Time is a gift. Each of us gets 24 hours a day of our gift that we can use any way we wish. Sometimes we make good use of this gift, other times we waste it. But what if I told you that you could get more of it, a little more time each day.
I have spent time this week thinking about an innovation, really the combination of three other innovations, that has given me more time. That innovation is the directions in real time on my phone. Each day, as I leave the office on the way to my car, I check my phone for directions home. It gives me one of at least five different routes based on the traffic at that time. On a rare occasion it takes me through a residential neighborhood that I did not even know existed until a few months ago. I decided to try and measure this benefit. I learned that I save on average at least 6 minutes a day going home . That makes 30 minutes a week, which is at least a day a year. Hard to believe that my phone company has given me at least a day a year to use however I want.
This innovation is really the combination of three innovations, GPS, smartphones and real time traffic data. Real time traffic data has been around for a long time. At least 15 years ago I would sometimes check a website that would show red, yellow and green on the local freeways letting me know which were running well and which had a slowdown. It is helpful, but today combining that with the directions of GPS and then putting it on an app on my phone results in an innovation that gives me time.
There are two things to take away from today’s blog. First, look around you and see if there are any other innovations that can save you time. What a gift in your life if you find a day or more a year that you can use anyway you want. Second, some of life’s great innovations came from combining two different innovations. What pieces do you have that can help you create something amazing? Use your time wisely and it make all the difference.
Sometimes it is the little innovations that make the big innovations possible. In the video below is a demonstration of a power station that creates electricity by harnessing wave energy and turning it into electricity. What I found interesting about the station was not the station in itself, but the little innovation that made it possible. They had to develop a system so the blades would spin in the same direction when the waves came in and also when the waves went out in the opposite direction. This smaller minor innovation made the bigger one possible.
The Wright Brothers had to do something similar. They did not anticipate that they would have to do much to develop their propeller. They could just borrow from the propellers used in ships. But unfortunately it did not work that way. The designs from ships gave them a start, but they had to create a propeller that was driven by the air, but was stable. It was this more minor innovation that made the major innovation of flight possible.
Edison had a goal at his invention factory that his teams create a minor invention every ten days and a major one every six months. We often talk about the big innovations because they have more pizazz, but the minor innovations that we may not even think about can make all the difference. So, if you are struggling with catching the wave of innovation perhaps it is not time to focus on the big innovation, success may be in thinking small.
Recently while I was taking a shower, I turned around and there was Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens standing there in my shower. He was had his light saber drawn and looked ready to fight. Fortunately for me, it was not actually him, but rather a picture of him on a new bottle of shampoo. I looked down and thought, I need to try this, will it clean by hair better than other shampoos? Will it give me the force? Will it help me complete my training and become a Jedi Knight? To my disappointment, when I was done it only provided me with clean hair. No special force powers or other enhanced abilities.
When we have discussion with people about innovation, marketing often comes up. Many people see the process of marketing as creative, but not necessarily innovative. But often getting people to use a new or innovative product is as important as the product itself. So even if marketing is not innovative it is part of the innovative process.
George Lucas understood this intellectually or intuitively. When he made the original Star Wars he retained the rights to merchandising and the soundtrack. At the time movie merchandise and soundtracks were more of a promotion tool, and the studios hoped to break even rather than another source of revenue. Lucas was more innovative in his approach and was able to make millions, and then billions by using the movie to promote the merchandise and the merchandise to promote the movie. Both areas became highly profitable.
So, was putting a popular movie character on a bottle of shampoo innovative? Is this even the correct question? Is the more important question, does putting a popular movie character on a bottle of shampoo increase sales? As I thought about these things, I came to a different conclusion. I looked at the process from the my point of view, the consumer. We purchased this product to encourage a seven-year-old boy to actually use shampoo instead of just standing in the shower for a while and then yell, “I’M DONE.” Nobody wants to go through the discussion with a wet child on whether or not they really used soap. The next thing you know you are smelling wet hair, and then sending them back in to finish the job. If any product or package can help with this, even if it is not necessarily innovative, it is definitely appreciated. So, when you work with a product or process, spend some time thinking about the marketing and packaging. This may be what you need to have to get others to use your innovation.