Appropriate Innovation Makes Good Sense.

Innovation should always deliver on a specific purpose or promise, often it simply doesn’t. It needs to be suitable to our needs; it needs to resolve a given job-to-be done.

In the developed world we are consistently over-delivering innovation for many and there is a given cost to that, which we all pay for even though we often don’t really need it in the first place. Take for example, the software provided by Microsoft for its windows application, in its office versions, they all are over specified for our personal needs. The majority of these ‘sit’ on our computers taking up space and never used. This continued requirement which we are forced to constantly upgrade requires us to seek more computing power yet it is really inappropriate for most people’s needs.

Perhaps with cloud computing we can see more ‘stripped down’ versions from Microsoft in the future that reduce the initial purchase price, give us a basic kit to work within and through the use of cloud computing as and when we need additional software, we can go and download it by paying an ‘appropriate’ fee to either use it as a one off or to download it onto our computer. We achieve less clutter on our computer, faster start up and performance times, latest applications and a better way to manage our personal needs in a constantly tailored way, appropriate innovation.

Appropriate innovation is possible to be applied increasingly on many products and services with a different thinking of product or service final delivery. It is actually going on in many ways today but it has not been perhaps focused upon enough, in a way that leads to a transformation to meet the times we live in. These need to be more thrifty, tapping into a market need of more inexpensive alternatives that deliver to people the appropriateness at the involvement level they want or can afford to get the job done .

The internet can play an increasing part in this as it can allow us to tap into what we need when we need it. What needs to happen is this philosophy of appropriateness needs to be adopted by more firms and this ‘mind shift’ might lead to significant growth, adjusting there ability to deliver over specified solutions into ones that simply ‘do the job’- a present problem we need to tackle in developed countries, not just developing countries. We need to draw more people into usage, thus growing markets, extracting greater potential and achieving deeper market penetration.

Appropriate Innovation is not new, in actually comes in a number of well articulated guises already.

Clayton Christensen outlines his thoughts on disruptive innovation and he has written extensively about this approach. He argues by doing a clear jobs-to-be-done analysis you can spot market opportunities, not just for segments of under-served but those that are over- served that are ripe for disruption and new products or services that meet that ‘sweet spot’. We tend to see this more for developing countries but increasingly I would argue we need to apply this thinking to developed markets that are presently bogged down with little growth and market stimulus.

A second aspect of appropriateness has been discussed by Vijay Govindarajan as reverse innovation. He points out the rise from globalization, that organizations are applying reverse innovation by taking products and services developed specifically for the developing world that can become the new oxygen for future growth globally.

He argues “many western multinationals with all their resources, technical superiority, and established global present are being beaten to the punch. In the developing world, local competitors are often at the forefront of economic expansion. They are very different organizations in very different places, in very different industries. yet all are leaving established multinationals in their wakes- not just in emerging markets but also in developed markets.”

He states “that the biggest opportunity for multinationals in the next 25 years is to focus on the vast segment of unserved and underserved in poor countries.” Reverse innovation is not only required to capture growth in emerging markets; it will fuel future growth of multinationals in their home markets. It does this through a more appropriate innovation approach, aligning clear, specific needs and tailoring products and services to meet those. VG defines reverse innovation as very simply, any innovation likely to be adopted first in the developing world whereas a  disruptive innovation has a particular dynamic that endangers incumbents but both have ‘appropriateness’ to meeting need.

Recently the consulting company, A D Little, was discussing the future of innovation management and within one of its five concepts to watch it introduced frugal innovation. It sees new segments, new needs emerging that require a more radical new low cost. This frugality and affordability will alter the mindset of many. Present societies regarded as affluent will need to adapt and reduce down on their current expectations and fit their circumstances accordingly with ‘appropriate’ innovation that serves their specific needs.

Frugal innovation can be interchanged a lot with reverse innovation. Frugal innovation brings about a rethinking of the nature of innovation. Instead of “more” it is often striving for “less”, using clever technology to create greater simplification with a huge potential across many fields of product and service to allow society and individuals greater engagement at an appropriate cost.

There is a huge potential in considering these three concepts

If you take an argument of VG’s that there are three primary situations of 1) income gaps, 2) infrastructure gaps and 3) sustainability gaps and seeing we are increasingly suffering from these in the developed world as well as the developing world, they can really offer rich opportunities to view innovation through new lenses of appropriateness

All three concepts match to appropriate innovation- matching appropriate needs and innovations and aligning them to give a real growth potential.

Barriers and resistance

For all three concepts there is a real need to change the existing mindsets. You must overcome resistance to shifting power and control away from headquarters, from a selected few and they must be willing to reshape the organizational models  to be a more flexible one.You must overcome the initial resistance to prioritizing an investment that does not initially seemingly serve what you think are the interest of your mainstream customers. Each can cannibalise on existing concepts and this is a tough path to travel and break out but there is even more a pressing need to ‘go where the growth is’.

Appropriate Innovation is a real way forward to grow business.

The organizations that learn to shift towards “bottom up” innovation could provide the impetus needed to develop successful innovation-for-development strategies that meet appropriate customer needs. This is the approach to start.

People are often impatient; they don’t want to wait for solutions that are not appropriate they are seeking ones that fit their pocket, fit their needs. To discover these untapped new markets although it is not so clear cut initially is to perform a very precise jobs-to-be-done market analysis to discover these underserved needs.

To meet this need we should create a culture of inventing more convenient, lower- cost, appropriately specified, perhaps more on-demand products and services. In this way we can attract a larger population to tap into a greater market potential of appropriate services and products/.

There are plenty of people  who would be happy to purchase a product with less (but good enough) performance if they could get it at a lower price but where these is still going to be a reasonable margin for the providers. There are increasing ways to deliver ‘stripped down’ versions of nearly everything. We just need to learn what is appropriate, a move to greater simplicity and delivering appropriate innovation to meet given needs.

5 thoughts on “Appropriate Innovation Makes Good Sense.

  1. Pingback: Innovation posts of the week: An Iterative Approach to Innovation Strategy - Game Changer

  2. Your article brings up a very important point that I think needs to be repeated until executives really start to understand it: serving the low-end through disruptive innovations or reverse innovation will require business models that are vastly different than the models that are typically in place in the organization.

    We’ve been successful recently at using the Business Model Generation Canvas to help business leaders design business models around innovative products that they’re creating. Once they can visualize all of the detail of the new model (the key activities/resources/costs/revenue) they can understand how flexible they’ll need to be in order to go after the new market. It’s also a good way to articulate early on how the new product might not hit the hurdle rates that the organization is accustom to (at least in the beginning).

    As always, great article.


    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your thoughts. you are absolutely right in getting them to work through the BMG canvas to ‘see’ the differences, the hard part is ‘being flexible’ to deliver this different BM. Your hurdle rates do become a potential barrier, the same as protecting existing products or services that over serve many. All call for some tough decisions and organizational understanding but all companies need to constantly look in the rear view mirrow at what is coming up behind them through disruptive or reverse thinking. Thanks for your compliment as well
      Regards Paul


  3. Hi Paul – great post – and great observation of the similarity between the various innovation types – I’m not sure that “reverse”, frugal, etc really merit being a type of innovation in its own rights – they are, after all, just variations on constraint-based innovation – which has been around since at least TRIZ if not before. The key constraint in question this time though is simply cost.

    Having been the CMO of a start-up in the past, I can tell you from experience that you can get very creative when you’re told to “Do as much as possible without spending any money” – which forced me to explore and pioneer a bunch of marketing methods which no one else was doing in those days (which translated into free/very cheap opportunities!).

    Playing with constraints is a great way to get outside of your current box – and one of my favorite constraint based challenges I frequently do with clients is to ask “If we could no longer make money the way we’re making money today…how else could we make money?” – the ultimate constraint – existing business 🙂


  4. I think you are right Boris, constraints force you to think differently, to seek out alternatives that are appropriate. I follow with growing interest the work of steve Blank and Eric Reis on lean, on customer development. their use of the Business model canvas, each gives us more ability to work within constraints and be able to seek out these alternatives.

    I share your concern over where frugal, reverse and even disruptive fit in innovation types but they are ‘given’ approaches and I think it is better to seperate out them out, to talk about them, so you can apply them in the appropriate way. Thanks for your comments- always valued. Cheers


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