Technology is Only a Small Part of the Solution

The problem with a technology-centric view to innovation is that it becomes bound by the technology. Rather than taking a broad, holistic view to understand the problem, it often rushes to solve the problem with the solution at hand. The reason why Design Thinking puts the customer at the centre of the innovation is precisely to avoid this weakness in the innovation process. This approach is likely to work much better.

Also, some of the biggest innovations of our time have not been the result of inventing or creating a new technology. Rather, they came about through the contextualization of existing technology in an innovative manner, to solve the problem. This implies that business owners and customer-facing teams must be part of any innovation process.

This was demonstrated in a project by the students of Stanford's Institute of Design. They had set out to create an innovative medical incubator (a device that keeps new-born babies warm at optimal temperature) for impoverished communities. They started by imagining a state of the art, hi-tech incubator as seen in the hospitals in rich countries. However as they studied the reality on the ground, the final product they came up with, called ‘Embrace’, was based on high-school physics and used a phase-change material (PCM) that was capable of maintaining a certain temperature for up to six hours as it cools from melted liquid to solid. Not only did it cost less, but also required no electricity. While the technology itself was simple, it worked very well because it was tailored to the context and needs of the end-user community it was meant for.

Innovation programs need to resist the temptation of applying cool technologies when they may not be needed. Creating an unnecessarily hi-tech and complicated product may reduce the overall value of the innovation by making it less desirable or viable.