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.

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