What is innovation and what is the purpose behind innovation? Innovation by itself would be of no meaning to anyone if it did not provide solutions; solutions to any current day problem that we are facing. And if there is a new way of fulfilling a basic necessity of billions of people around the world that is cheaper, easier and greener than any other way then what else do we need to talk about? And even if the new way has been around for a few years in some part of the world I think it is still relevant to talk about it here because I know that almost all the audience in this blog do not have an inkling about what SODIS is?

Let me start this by writing about a very important topic. Death. One of the leading causes of death in developing countries is contaminated water. Water borne disease such as diarrheal disease (one of the common ones) is responsible for the deaths of more than 1.8 million people every year. It also kills 12,000 children in Nepal every year ;-( . And the sad thing is that the number of deaths around the world can be easily reduced by making the water safer to drink.

Solar water disinfection (SODIS) is one of the alternate methods of making drinking water safe. Unlike costly methods that use fossil fuels or wood to boil water this method is really cheap and even the poorest people in the world can get access to safe drinking water with this method. All you need to get safer water with SODIS is sunlight and a transparent polyethylene bottle. In this method water is kept in the bottle and left in the sunlight for around 5 hours.

Three effects of solar radiation are believed to contribute to the inactivation of bacterial organisms of the water. UV-A, interferes directly with the metabolism and destroys cell structures of bacteria. UV-A (wavelength 320-400nm) reacts with oxygen dissolved in the water and produces highly reactive forms of oxygen (oxygen free radicals and hydrogen peroxides), that are believed to also damage pathogens. Infrared radiation heats the water and if the water temperatures rises above 50°C, the disinfection process is three times faster.

SODIS method was developed after extensive laboratory and field tests by Eawag (The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and Sandec (Eawag's Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries) in the 1990’s. Due to this new technique in making water safer it has been really popular in developing countries. Its effectiveness means that even the World Health Organization recommends it as a viable method for household water treatment and safe storage. Research studies have found that effective usage of SODIS helps reduce instances of diarrhea by up to 80%.

Some of the few things to keep in mind to use this method is that the water should be kept in the sunlight for around 5 hrs or more depending upon how bright the sun is, the water bottles should be changed from time to time (because it may get scratched or wear out), the water bottle used should not be more than a 2 liter bottle for maximum effect.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get clean and green (:-)) water.

Nice article on best practices within innovation. Essentially, we've spent almost $5 trillion on R&D and higher education, the key contributors to innovation. Yet we don't know what has worked and what hasn't.

Innovation economics aims to solve this question. Economists are studying what are the best practices in innovation and how companies can use this information to become more efficient at innovation.

Initial findings:
1. Offer incentives for innovations
2. Seek solutions from from a wide variety of people, including researchers and outside sources
3. Encourage collaboration by offering tax credits
4. Encourage outside participation from overseas

Sometimes innovation is inherently complex, but what should the goal of innovation be? Arguably it's to simplify, but sometimes that requires taking a radically-new approach to a traditional problem -- redefining its nature and scale. That is the 'case' study we provide here.

Data Loss Problem

One of the most vexing problems of the digital era is the the nightmare of losing critical digital information on a computer. Large corporations spend significant amounts of money on complex, multi-tier systems. What about a consumer or small business, or how about a large corporation that has such a disparate workforce that in many ways its 'problem' looks like that of traditional consumers? There have always been back-up solutions, but they have traditionally been hardware-intensive, complicated and required a tremendous amount of human management.

Mozy -- a company recently acquired by enterprise-storage player EMC -- provides a subscription-based service that enables consumers and businesses to achieve continuous, off-site back-ups of critical information and programs residing on their computers and servers via their local Internet connection from anywhere in the world. Download a piece of software, select your configuration, and you're done! It's that easy.

What does Mozy do differently, though? The company offers a cost-effective service that is incredibly friendly, easy to use and reliable -- simplicity and reliability -- but yet that is technologically robust. In fact, it is light-years ahead of the competition in terms of capabilities and technical sophistication. In many ways, Mozy is an innovation that is both ‘radical innovation’ and ‘architectural innovation.’ It is also not only an upgrade, relative to competitors, but a complete re-think about how to solve the problem of online/off-site backups for its customers.

Radically-new Approach

The service is the result of one entrepreneur, who realized that the scale and nature of back-up solutions is very different, perhaps, than others might view it -- referring to it as a 'petabyte' problem.

Mozy was founded by Josh Coates as Berkeley Data Systems in Utah. He is a serial entrepreneur, who previously founded another storage company, Scale8, which he sold to Intel. Coates approached Mozy from the standpoint of recognizing a core problem that everyone faces – the risks and challenges involved in keeping important, computer-based information safe – and wondering how he could solve this problem as elegantly and simply as possible. He commented to online technology-news site ‘Techrockies’ in 2006: “My career has been spent around large scale parallel systems. The next problem I wanted to tackle was the backup problem. It seems like such an obvious solution to a problem everyone has – how do you keep your data safe.”

Coates was amazed, though, that –- at the time -– there still was not an easy-to-use and reliable solution, and he was also baffled by the cost and nature of others' solutions to the problem.

The solution seemed simple to Coates: "You back it up remotely. Floods, fires, and earthquakes can't get to you, and if someone steals your laptop you're still safe, and your hard drive is still okay. That's a problem that has never been solved. There are three to four dozen backup companies out there, but none have been terribly successful. I thought to myself—why is this still a problem? Why isn't this a no-brainer? Why isn't there a free, automatic, secure backup solution out there? Well, it doesn't take long to figure out why. If you're Yahoo, or Google, with a ten million user base, with 1 or 2G of backup data, that's ten to twenty petabytes. That's why there isn't this ubiquitous remote backup solution out there. I wanted to fix this."

Coates was convinced that no off-the-shelf solution would be sufficient or cost-effective. So he took a different technology approach to Mozy's storage systems than competitors' – a proprietary ‘petabyte’ architecture that he found actually costs dramatically less to operate at scale.

This platform/economics combination enabled Mozy to offer a very compelling amount of value for such a low price. The result, today, is a service that for many consumers with small storage needs is free, and for others and for small businesses it costs only an incremental monthly fee.

Data Revolution?

The company was launched in 2004; it came out of 'stealth mode' in 2006; and it was acquired by EMC in 2007. So it's had a lot of recent attention. So what?

First, it's a great service (which this blog poster can verify, given he has three computers backing up each day via Mozy's premium/paid service).

Second, and most importantly, it represents a tremendous face lift on storage architecture -- one that will undoubtedly impact the industry in numerous ways over the coming decade.

The creative ability of a collection of distant and disaggregated individuals is clearly evident across a number of open-source offerings, including Linux, Mozilla Firefox, and Wikipedia, among others. In recent years, the power of co-creation has been harnessed by a number of corporations, including Ducati, General Mills, and Procter & Gamble and is being widely advocated by a number of recent business tomes, including Democratizing Innovation, Outside Innovation, and The New Age of Innovation. Clearly, customer co-creation is a hot topic and one that will likely attract increasing interest in the near future. Given its recency and the exhuberence expressed by its proponents, it is difficult to decipher the limits of this new innovation technique. Are there any realms where co-creation can't work or shouldn't be applied?

An initial look into the limits of co-creation is provided by Penguin Publishing's recently failed wiki-experiment, A Million Penguins. Essentially, Penguin experimented with the idea of co-creating a novel by applying the logic, principles, and techniques of open-source software. Penguin launched this initiative on its corporate website in early February 2007 and shut it down (due to the overwhelming volume of contributions) approximately one month later. During this brief period, nearly 1,500 authors contributed approximately 11,000 edits. Thus, from a contribution standpoint, this experiment might be considered a success. However, The finished product is a collection of 1,030 pages of chaotic and inchoate prose laden with disjointed paragraphs and a direction-less plot. Those interested in exploring what when wrong (as well as right) should check out both the brief post-mortem provided in Penguin's blog as well as a recent academic investigation of this experiment by Bruce Mason and Sue Thomas of the Institute for Creative Technologies at De Montfort University (UK). Both reports identify a number of problems with this experiment, including creative divergence among its contributors, the technological limits of the wiki-platform, and vandalism, among others. If nothing else, Penguin's experiment presents the co-creation movement with a bit of irony: Although we can write books about co-creation, co-creating a book seems beyond our limits.

While search results presented as blue links may be the current gold standard for web based queries, one company has taken web browsing to the next level.

Sometimes we head to the internet simply to learn more about a subject without having a specific question in mind. Wouldn’t it be nice to review stories and information available on the web as easily as flipping though a magazine? To address this unmet need, "two guys an a gal" in a garage founded Alltop (“all the topics”). This new search engine, a “virtual magazine rack” arranges content by subject. Each page updates from relevant blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc. Even better, rolling the mouse over a headline gives an instant preview so there’s no need to click through to determine if the content is of interest.

Not only is Alltop an innovative way to approach web content, but it also has a site dedicated specifically to innovation, particularly in business. Check it out: The site updates constantly so you never know what you’ll find.

Grass Roots Innovation

In "The NPD Manager's Quest" (p. 10 of the June 2008 PDMA Visions Magazine posted on the course website) Mukund Karanjikar argues that lower level managers and employees are better positioned than senior leadership to lead NPD efforts.

According to his view, upper managers have little to gain and much to lose by taking an active role in new product development. They prefer to handle "well-set operations" with little chance of failure, and delegate innovation to lower level intrepreneurs (or hire consultants). Such an arrangement can work, he says, as long as front-line managers in charge of NPD are well chosen (Karanjikar lists 5 key intrapreneurial traits) and receive proper attention and resources from upper management.

Historically, perhaps due to typical organizational structures and incentives, a grass roots approach to innovation seems to improve a project's chances for success. To illustrate this observation, the author quotes Vijay Govindarajan who asks "How many revolutions are started by kings?"

Interpublic Group's Mediabrands has created a venture fund to encourage employees to "step forward and lead our businesses into the future." It is expected 3-5 proposals will receive be selected every year. Reward ideas will focus on new business models, new types of media and marketing services. 

This strategy will work will for organizations that already have creative, innovative employees within. Because this unit within IPG is new, they are creating a culture as they go. This venture fund is already communicating to employees that Mediabrands values innovation. 

When I hear the word, "innovation" I typically think of high-tech and expensive new offerings such as the iPhone, Dyson vacuum, and the GM Volt. Indeed, these are the types of innovations that grab headlines and engender high levels of consumer awareness. However, these offerings appeal to only a small subset of consumers (i.e., those living in advanced consumer economies). According to Mahajan and Banga (2005), nearly 90% of our planet's inhabitants live in nations with a per-capita GDP of less that $10,000 (US). Clearly, these individuals have a much different set of consumer needs and desires than the typical American and are highly unlikely to be able to afford (or even need) an iPhone, Dyson, or Volt. Consequently, there is a tremendous need for low-tech innovations geared to this vast population of consumers. While this need appears to have been ignored by most corporations, it has attracted the attention of Professor Amy Smith, who directs MIT's D-Lab, which focuses on creating innovative solutions for inhabitants of developing nations. This lab has produced a number of interesting innovations such as non-toxic charcoal made from corn husks and sugar cane. The importance of affordable low-tech innovation has also been recently recognized by Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase, who has discovered that in developing nations such as India, local street vendors who recycle and reuse old cell phones are posing a major competitive threat. Given current growth projections, over the next decade, the population of developed nations will shrink and get older, while the population of developed nations with grow and get younger. Thus, innovation directed towards the developing world is likely to be the main growth are for most firms. Is your firm prepared to meet this challenge?


Est. 2008 | Aric Rindfleisch | Wisconsin School of Business | Banner Image by Bruce Fritz