Agile Innovation

I believe, the difference between the Corporate World and the Academic world is as follows.

The Academic World tends to move from the concrete to the abstract for creating an universal formula.

The Corporate World tends to break down abstractions into concrete pieces so that it could be converted into tangible market value.

As both the worlds are moving in the opposite directions, each think that the other is stupid.

The people in between, who are sometimes moving in Corporate direction and sometimes moving in Academic direction, are considered absolutely stupid and absolutely confused.

People may differ with this view. However, it is impossible for me to deny that when people try to analyse and create abstractions in the Corporate World and then try to evolve a solution, which they think could have a lasting impact and longevity; the Corporate World in its hurry for impact and returns, considers this mechanism absolutely stupid and a waste of time. Even the best of the Corporate World are more comfortable with “quick-wins” & “quick-fixes”. Most of the Corporate World believes that this is the best technique for most returns even though they consider risks associated with the same. Many business houses consider this more prudent as they factor a huge risk bucket in their business plan right upfront. This makes the price of the product unnecessarily high; making lives of the consumers uncomfortable.

Similarly, in the Academic World, seldom are concrete milestones set. The pursuits are generally endless. First of all, the Academic World does not recognise that it does not need creating Technology; but it needs creating Innovations. Because of this gap in the definition of the work of the Academic world, which just pursues Technology, forgetting about the other 2 dimensions of Innovation, i.e. Market and Implementation, leading to producing unworthy inventions which the Corporate World needs culturing and fitting into the Market Place.

I get a feeling from my studies that Academic World has realised the importance of connection with the Market and realities of the World in terms of Implementation. Actually, when I look carefully, all great innovations were made carefully with all dimensions kept in mind. Even Newton formulated Calculus to basically be able to make sense of Mechanics. Till Calculus was invented, it was impossible to understand what happens at the boundary conditions where sometime was tending to nothing and when something was tending to everything.

More recently, Mr. Steve Jobs is a great example. Steve Jobs actually made a wonderful innovation called Walkman absolutely redundant. Mr. Akio Morita is another great example of good Engineers. Morita removed the bulky recorder and heavy speakers from a Tape Recorder and make it possible for a device to be so small that it could be carried around by people. The fact is that he reduced the wattage of the speakers so that the device could become personal and not disturb others around. I believe that this phenomenon actually started with Kodak.

Academic World totally ignores the fact that Innovation can be created only by balanced confluence of using new and old technology to address the old and new market using implementation techniques which are both tested and tried and techniques that are raw. One important dimension is that Academic World considers Innovations as follows.

Discovery -> Invention -> Development -> Product -> Market -> Profit

For some reason, Academic World and Corporate World have made a wall between themselves. Academic World ends once the Development is over. Then on it is the job of the Corporate World to work from the Product to the Profit. For Innovations to succeed, it is most important to break this wall. Every Great Innovator has broken through this wall.

Another important aspect that Steve Jobs has clearly proved (and maybe even Mr. Bill Gates) that the traditional Waterfall method is not possibly suitable for the modern world for creating the needed innovations. It could have worked earlier when the world was growing much slowly. Innovation also needs adopting Agile Techniques. Agile Technique in Innovation World means that we needs moving ahead with Technology, Market and Implementation simultaneously producing value in every iteration. The value multiplication should happen as number of iterations increases.

The question is whether the World should consider these great men like Steve Jobs, Akio Morita, Kodak or even Thomas Alva Edison as Businessmen or as Academics. I believe that if the gap could be reduced only then we will have good innovations in reasonable amount of time.

I understand that no great Innovation is possible unless all sciences are considered. We have flaws in all Innovations as this is only possible for The Almighty and not possible by Human Beings. However, to be not talking philosophically, I state an experience. It could be considered an Innovation.

We were invited by Bhutan Telecom to help them increase their business as the Bhutan Government had opened up its Telecom Market. As a result Bhutan Telecom suddenly faced competition from another Operator called Tashi Cell. Now, Bhutan has a total population of 600,000 people and Bhutan Telecom had about 300,000 subscribers across mobile and fixed and broadband services. After deliberations, we came to the conclusion that we could not help Bhutan Telecom increase its Customer Base drastically and we could not prevent the natural churn. So, we thought of working on 2 dimensions.

The first dimension was that we would optimise the organisation (in the words of CEO of Bhutan Telecom, “he wanted a sleek organisation with no fat“). To do this, we executed a plan over 3 phases to converge all the technologies and business segments. This drastically increased agility and drastically reduced fat. Of course, we optimised aspects like inventory use, etc.

The second dimension was that we should have new products. For this, we devised a product called Mobile Money (I got this idea from my interactions with Safaricom in Kenya to whom we were trying to sell our Billing System. Safaricom had implemented m-Pesa). Now, the idea was that we would make all payments through the Mobile Phone. We would pay Electricity Bills, Water Bills, Taxes, Insurance, etc. and pay for buying shoes, clothes, rice, etc. The first dimension of this plan was relatively easy as we engaged with the Electricity Companies, Water Corporations, etc. We had only one hurdle as how we would divide the cost between the corporations for this service. To resolve this, we got in touch with the Minister of Information and Technology of Bhutan. The Minister converted the idea in to a plan for increasing GNH (Bhutan is the only country in the world which measures its economy in terms of Gross National Happiness). We found that an average Bhutanese walked for 3 days to pay his/her electricity bill and then walked back for 3 days. If he/she could pay his/her bills through the Mobile Phones, the Government would save 6 days of labour for the citizen. Now, all the Corporations had no choice but to comply.

There was another hurdle and that was the Banks. In Bhutan, there is no Credit Cards. Also, Banks have a coverage of 20% of the territory as compared to 60% coverage of the Telecom sector. So, the Banks, instead of posing competition, actually joined hands as they saw this as a very good opportunity for increasing their business. Banks had found that people in the villages had more cash than the people in the cities. This was because in the villages, people earned less; but spent so less that the savings was high. In cities, people earned much more and spend most of it. And covering the villages was a major challenge for the Banks given the landscape of Bhutan.

So, when everything was put in place, we had the challenge for making the vouchers available in the villages. And also we had the challenge for collecting the money from the villages. Here, the Government came to the rescue. Bhutan Government had set up a body called Citizen Convenience Center. This body had a presence in almost all villages and cities. So, it was decided that the CCC would supply the vouchers and collect the money.

After all this, one would ask why there is no Mobile-Money in Bhutan. The whole project was brought to a halt when the Monetary Controller of Bhutan said that they could not allow any other body, other than themselves, to create money in Bhutan. This was their learning from Reserve Bank of India. Of course, in India, now Mobile-Money is slowly coming into existence.

When I was on TV

The clipping of the TV Show on Mobile Money for Bhutan on NDTV-Profit.

Waterfall or Agile? Do Both!
English: Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone...
English: Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference Español: Presentación del iPhone 4 por Steve Jobs en la Worldwide Developers Conference del año 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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