Orbit Shifting Innovation

 

How do you create the type of innovation for the history books?

Why did record producers reject Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody?

What are the 8 enemies of innovation?

 

After twenty years of research in the field of innovation, Rajiv Narang and Devika Devaiah authored a terrific book, Orbit Shifting Innovation.

If you’re interested in small shifts, slight improvements, and new versions of an existing product or service, then you can pass.  Orbit shifting innovation is all about huge, disruptive, groundbreaking transformations.  With an orbit shifting innovation, history is created.

I had the opportunity to ask Rajiv and Devika about their work.

 

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” -Steve Jobs

 

Experience An Orbit-Shift

 

Your new book is the result of 22 years of work in the field of innovation.  Would you define “Orbit-shifting innovation” and share an example?

Orbit-shifting innovation happens when an area that needs transformation meets an innovator with the will and the desire to create, and not follow, history.  At the heart of an Orbit-shifting innovation is the breakthrough that creates a new orbit and achieves a transformative impact.

 

There is nothing called a saturated market, just saturated mindsets.

 

Orbit-Shifting Water Purification

 

The Swiss firm Vestergaard Frandsen has developed an Orbit-shifting product that is and will continue to have a transformative impact in areas where there is a pernicious shortage of clean drinking water.  The entire water purification industry is locked into the mindset ‘Purify at the source and then drink.’   So bottled water is purified at the source or in factories, and then supplied through retail to consumers.  Home water purifiers either have pre-purified water dispensers or purify the water which is filled into containers (jugs and bottles) and then dispensed.  LifeStraw broke this industry mindset by making it simultaneous: purify as you drink.  The real shift that LifeStraw made was not in miniaturizing the system; deploying technology to make it smaller, sleeker and speedier is a given in the natural progression of development and growth.  It is the delivery mechanism in the format of the straw that changed the game comprehensively.  By putting a miniaturized system into a straw, LifeStraw broke the mental-model boundary from ‘purifying and then drinking’ to ‘purify as you drink’ (Vestergaard Frandsen).

LifeStraw

You can literally drink water from any source:  This straw filters 99.9 per cent of water-borne bacteria and parasites.  A single straw costs about US $6.50 and filters about 1,000 liters of water, which is enough for one person for one year.  This has bought potable water within the reach of millions of people for whom traditional water purifiers or bottled water is simply not affordable.  Vestergaard is truly saving lives with this Orbit-shifting straw by safeguarding against waterborne diseases, which are among the commonest sources of illness.  No wonder then, it has been named LifeStraw.

What’s more, Vestergaard was originally a clothing company in the fabric industry.  And yet fabric became the trigger, rather than the boundary, to create the LifeStraw – its central component is a cloth-based filter membrane.

 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” -Albert Einstein

 

The Enemies of Innovation

 

I’m interested in your view on the enemies of innovation.  You point to a survey by Business Week and BCG that identified the enemies as:

  • lengthy development times
  • lack of coordination
  • risk-averse culture
  • limited customer insight
  • poor idea selection
  • inadequate measurement tools
  • dearth of ideas
  • marketing or communication failure

And those “enemies” would be the expected ones.  You, however, say that all of those are really manifestations of something much deeper.  What is it?

From our experiences in ‘Making Innovation Happen’ with over 250 Orbit-shift projects over the last 20 years, we find that these are not the real enemies, these are merely symptoms. The real enemy is the underlying mindset gravity.

02fig2Mindset gravity conditions and limits even the most brilliant teams and organizations, layers of invisible constructs and beliefs that unknowingly limit the thought spectrum, reduce the exploration space and stifle new possibilities.

Most organizations and teams have a tendency to settle into an orbit that works, that is reasonably successful, that is fairly predictable and one that minimizes uncertainties.  The more settled an orbit, the greater the desire to cling to it – the greater is the accumulation of gravity – gravity that prevents a move into the next orbit.

 

We need to hire mavericks; only people with this kind of a rebellious attitude can come up with innovative ideas and see them through to the end.