The Micro Level: Working Like A Startup

By June 22, 2016 blog, Innovation No Comments

In the startup world, ‘not working’ is normal.
– Paul Graham

Tackling Individual Innovation Challenges By Playing Fast and Loose.

Despite the multitude of articles advising you to strategize like a startup, the only place where you should apply this
office-594119_350thinking is when tackling individual innovation challenges.1) Almost all innovation efforts have the bumps in the road. Design schedules invariably slip and that prototype ends up exceeding the projected cost. In other terms, innovation is not reactive, staged or managed. It’s proactive and unwieldy with undefined and unanticipated, though significant, outcomes, if you’re lucky.
How you innovate depends on the type of innovation you are dealing with. The best way to get some clarity on the matter is to ask yourself three questions about the challenge in front of you:4)

1. Ask the right question

The first step towards promoting a culture of innovation is to ensure that you’re working on challenges of strategic importance

2. Ask the question the right way

After you have figured out your critical challenges, the next step is to evaluate them properly.

3. Ask the question to the right people

Innovation requires a departure from standard thought processes. You need to look at challenges and opportunities from different angles. Unfortunately, it is difficult to operate with new perspectives when you are an expert in a field. As a result, the best breakthroughs are often found by engaging with alternate sectors of expertise.
Asking these questions ensures that you don’t overlook the amalgamate nature of innovation and that you use the correct strategy when handling an innovation challenge.5) A good place to start when attempting to classify innovation challenges is with a table that classifies an innovation challenge along two axis, the problem definition and domain definition.7) Once defined, you have a better understanding of the tasks ahead, the resources required and the ability to project how potential resolutions fit into the overall context of the company.

Problem Definition: How clear is the product or problem defined? Is there a clear directive to the specific problem you want to solve?
Domain Definition: Is there knowledge required to solve the problem clearly identified?

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Basic Research:
The systematic study directed toward better knowledge or understanding of the fundamental aspects of phenomena and of observable information without specific applications towards goals or products in mind. It is longview, high-reward research that provides the foundation for technological progress.8)

Breakthrough Innovation: An organization knows what they want to solve, but they don’t know how to solve it. Breakthroughs often occur by reaching outside of an organization and synthesizing knowledge across domains.9)
Examples of cross-domain innovation include:10)

  • Airlines improved airplane turnaround times by studying race car pit crews.
  • Hospitals improved their check-in process when they consulted hotels.
  • Oil transmission companies found better ways to seal cracked pipelines when they studied the self-healing properties of capillaries.
  • Medical device manufacturers were able to better understand how angioplasty balloons expand and contract in blood vessels by analyzing automobile airbags.
  • A whitening toothpaste was developed by studying how laundry detergent whitens clothes.

Sustaining Innovation: Improves existing technological processes but does not create new markets or value networks. Only develops existing ones with better value, allowing the companies to compete against each other’s sustaining improvements.11)Christensen, Clayton (2011). The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. HarperBusiness Examples include improved machinery performance and improved drug efficacy.

Disruptive Innovation: Defined by Clayton Christensen as, “An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers at the bottom of a market access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.12) Disruptive innovations typically target non-consumers of a section and require a new business model, because the value they create isn’t immediately obvious.

It is at the level of individual projects where startup axioms come into play, where organizations can bypass rules and processes in order to foster creativity and experimentation, with the goal of developing new products and services, particularly those of a disruptive nature.

References   [ + ]

4, 10.
11. Christensen, Clayton (2011). The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. HarperBusiness