Innovation is now, more than ever, the only way out for Egypt. Out of problems and structural issues that have been there for as long as any of us can remember. Egypt today needs to approach its problems on every front from a new angle with a new view to succeed in what it failed to do in the past. And since I am a believer in the law of big numbers, I think Egypt’s youth is not short of being its biggest source of innovation. And thus, the title of Mass Innovation.
It definitely seems an odd title since the two words don’t apparently go well together. The reason why is that innovation is always seen as the gift of the few, the rare skill that only a limited number of people can do. I – and I am sure so many of you – used to believe that innovation and creativity is a red diamond – the rarest kind of diamonds for those of you not familiar with jewelry. We have always been told to think outside of the box, find unusual solutions that might sound as crazy as possible. So when we think of innovation, we think of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, even Thomas Edison, those who create ideas from scratch and make the phoenix rise from the ashes. But is that the only way human kind can innovate. I now tend to disagree.
Innovation should be an activity embedded in our everyday life anchored in our routine, and the first time it struck me was when Jonathan Levav – Associate Professor of Marketing at Stanford University delivered a lecture last summer titled “Thinking Inside the Box”. The whole idea of the presentation was that it is possible to innovate within an organization using structured approaches. He identified five approaches namely, subtraction, task unification, division, multiplication and attribute dependency. And we will talk about every one of those in further articles. But the idea is that if we follow a structured approach, we are able to innovate and this is another kind of innovation that has a specific purpose related to customer centric business models. When an organization truly targets customer experience and not just puts it in the vision or mission “pour la forme”, it many of the times needs to efficiently search for product/market fit rather than trying to execute without an expected result. And here comes the importance of “lean startup” concept.
Lean startup is a methodology that works backward from the business results you're trying to achieve rather than working forward from the technology – as Eric Reis puts it. So in essence we need to do both, exploit current capabilities and try to achieve incremental innovation through presenting better products, lower costs of production and operations and enhanced efficiency, but also explore new grounds that open up opportunities for the future.
That is the heart of success; building this ambidextrous organization that exploits and explores to be able to sustain in a world where the only constant is change. An organization that is not caught up in success that it fails to recognize that it needs to change and adjust. But as easy as it sounds, it is extremely hard to pursue both ways, because the alignments between strategy, culture and processes to achieve exploitations are so different from those to pursue exploration. And the trick here is nothing but leadership. Leadership is not the ability to innovate or create or solve all the problems the business might face. It is creating the environment where those problems can be discussed and solved by other members of the organization. It is creating an internal ecosystem where ideas, disagreements and sometimes failures are allowed to shape the future of the organization. It is creating an ecosystem where everyone can play a role in an innovative strategy. It is allowing for mass innovation.
Now you as part of the mass need to understand more on every concept touched upon earlier and that will be our job, to tell you more on what we know and listen for what you have to say. Your voice is our most valuable resource.