Monday, November 9, 2015

The Three Landing Strips

“[Many] organizations have great landings, but at the wrong airport.”  --Dave Aron, Gartner Group
In the past few weeks, I attended three meetings on Humanitarian innovation. The first posed the question of where do good ideas land? The second, where do proven ideas go to grow up and scale. And the third, how do successfully scaled pilots go mainstream.

This is a common set of questions and ready solutions exist in the for-profit world. Venture capital funds startups, and capital markets take them to scale[1]. But where do the means exist in the non-profit world?

There are some new models of nonprofit funding including social capital,[2] social entrepreneurs,[3] innovation contests[4] and a handful of innovation funds[5]. But the success stories are few.

An innovation center creates a place for good ideas and prototypes to land, and a runway for these to take-off and grow.

Following the above diagram, consider three inflection points: 

  1. Landing Good Ideas - What's needed is a receptive audience, a friendly landing place inside the organization that will protect and nurture experiments.
  2. Landing Pilots - Once ideas have proven themselves, there is a need for the second landing strip: where successful pilots go to take-off. This is about long term sustainability and growth that requires the next level of nurturing and funding. It also may mean handing off the innovation to the mainstream department or organization whose business it is to manage and apply this newly proven capability. For digital innovation it may mean a hand-off to a software company.
  3. Landing in the Mainstream - To truly have impact, our good ideas need to move from successful pilots, to going to scale, and finally to replacing old ways with new, as the production systems (process, program and tech) of our organization. 

Each of these landing strips requires advice, coordination and funding. But more importantly they require senior level commitment and protection.

The Nespresso case is an interesting example[6].  The Nespresso coffee making system was invented in 1976 by Eric Favre at Nestle.  However, it was not until 12 years later that it became a success and another 12 years until it became a high-growth product for Nestle.[7] A new product idea and prototype could not survive 24 years of development unless it was protected and championed, which is what John Paul Gaillard did. [8]

Avenues of Innovation Development

Development of a marketing-funnel approach to innovation—as illustrated in the figure above—provides a framework for growing innovation.  Consider the following means for “feeding” the funnel:

a)      Avenues for idea feeds
1)      Gathering problems to be solved and needs to be addressed, from the field
2)      Propose a variety solutions to be piloted
b)      Avenues for pilots
1)      Internally run experiments; internal venture fund
2)      Crowd-sourced to volunteer and technical communities (V&TC's) with best prototype awards
3)      An innovation lab to incubate pilots
c)       Avenues for scaling
1)      Partner with an internal “champion” department
2)      Internal venture fund II for next stage, larger initiatives
d)      Avenues for mainstreaming
1)      Transfers to production units; adoption: incremental or replacement
2)      Budget to operate

The point to this multi-stage approach, is that to get to a few mainstream innovations, you need to nurture the life-cycle of ideas-to-products. 

[1] For example, see the Wikipedia entry on Venture Capital,
[2] Olivia Khalili, “15 Social Venture Capital Firms That You Should Know About”, Cause Capitalism, April, 2010
[3] “What is a Social Entrepreneur?, Ashoka,
[4] Microsoft Imagine Cup student competition,
[5] Global Innovation Fund, and the Humanitarian Innovation Fund,
[6] For a brief history of Nespresso, see
[7] “In August 2010, it was reported that Nespresso sales have been growing at an average of 30 percent per year over the past 10 years and more than 20 billion capsules have been sold since 2000…”, Wikipedia,
[8] Also see the interesting Case Study on Nespresso, here  The case notes that developing Nespresso in a separate subsidiary also had a large role in its success.

"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

Friday, July 31, 2015

Making New Connections

One of the things we do well at NetHope is making connections. Whether it's connecting first responders in Nepal, or connecting technology people with each other, "wiring" people together is in our founding DNA.

As I walked the showcase at this year's Imagine Cup I was looking for opportunities to match-up ideas and people. Two teams had alert apps to report threats of violence: UAE and Germany. Each had some good designs that the other team lacked. I encouraged each to spend time with the other team and share ideas. When the goal is  helping people, projects need to be an "and" rather than an "or."

The Japanese innovation team had a virtual air interface that reminded me of Tim Prentice, an award winning sculptor in Connecticut who builds mobiles that change appearance with wind. I showed the students the video. They were hooked. So I connected them. Artists and technology designers may be strange bedfellows. But creativity knows no such boundaries. Can-do students are open to learn from anywhere.

The UK innovation team had a cool Microsoft Band app to exchange contact info by shaking hands at events rather than handing out business cards.  Their app reminded me of a Social Network Analysis study for mapping the hidden gurus in an organization, an app near to my interest in Expertise Management. The students' eyes widened as he began to think about this other possibility for their technology. So I recommended looking up the research paper.

Making connections is something I enjoy. I've written about it before, here. It's cool to find some new examples. But that's what happens when you bring people together. The connections flourish among ideas, projects and people. One of our mottos is to "share and do". Make something happen together. 

The Tech at Hand

I've had the honor of being a Microsoft Imagine Cup Judge since 2008 --I'm officailly an old-timer trading stories with the elders of this august event.  Sitting together in the judges lounge yesterday, I remarked to a fellow judge how each Imagine Cup seems to feature projects with at least one new technology.  In Cairo it was the Windows phone, in New York it was the Kinect box, and here in Redmond this year it was the Microsoft Wristband.  Why was that?

Some investigation yielded the answer: the software development kit (SDK) that the students received at the start of competition last fall included the new Wristband.  Of course the students wanted to write apps for it!  Smart.

Everyone is talking about wearables.  Even those of us in the humanitarian sector are talking about wearable technologies.  In the World Citizenship category, 4 of the 12 teams incorporated the Band.  All were health applications.  Motion and heart-rate sensing were the basic inputs for Parkinsons, Cardio-arithmia, asthma and seizure detection apps.

The interesting aspect of this is how the expectation has grown that the students will create new apps around the new tech.  I've written about the five things students don't have. The most important is they have no sense of limitation. There is no "that won't work here"; there is only "let's do it!"

What if we had similar expectations for the emerging country communities in which we work as humanitarians?  That putting the technology and some basic training and support into the hands of local entrepreneurs just may yield some new ideas that we hadn't thought of.  Imagine that.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Obstacles, Failures and Winning

We saw a dozen teams at the 13th Microsoft Imagine Cup on the Microsoft campus in Redmond.  Our judging category was World Citizenship. 

During the hands-on session, I asked some of the teams what was their most difficult moment, the set-backs and obstacles they had to overcome.

One team said it was their first software versions crashing on the phone. Another said it was getting the sensors to stick and re-stick. One team said it was getting the basic parts into their country to build the prototype. 

In the world of innovation, failure is a milestone. Each of these teams overcame the setback and were among the teams invited to the world championships.  They learned, they adjusted, they found a way. The drive to succeed just may be the straight line on a crooked path.