“Nokia Life” Mobile Revolution Architect Shares Secret to Systematizing Innovation
By Marc Dresner, IIR USA
Innovation—like any creative endeavor—tends to be an almost alchemic process: a mix of ingenuity, science, accident and magic.
Seldom does genuine innovation result from a specific innovation plan. But what about process?
There are, of course, numerous schools of thought on innovation methodology and systems, but the consistently, persistently high failure rate of new product introductions leaves me scratching my head.
In pursuit of innovation, major corporations, academic institutions and other organizations have brought tremendous resources to bear, which more often than not bear no fruit.
So with just a day to go before the 2012 Front End of Innovation conference kicks off in Orlando, I thought it appropriate to give those of you who will be attending some fodder for discussion at the various panels, presentations, receptions and networking events ahead:
Can innovation truly be systematized?
I’m not qualified to answer the question, but Jawahar Kanjilal, Global Head of Nokia Life Mobile Phone Services at Nokia (NYSE:NOK) has a few thoughts on the subject flip a switch or two.
Last week, in Part One of FEI’s Forward Focus interview with Kanjilal, we discussed the development journey and evolution of Nokia Life—the progenitor of mobile Value Added Services (VAS) 2.0 that may change millions of lives around the world.
We conclude the interview today with a look at the method behind the madness when you’re dealing with a tall order and a blank canvass…
Q: If you look back on all of the innovations that you’ve had a hand in over the years, is there a common thread or framework? A method to the madness?
J.K.: Marc this is a very good question. I was asked this question a few months back, which had prompted me to introspect a bit and lo and behold, I discovered that there was a pattern that I was following subconsciously throughout.
I was working within an unwritten framework that could be split into five distinct steps. The first step is ‘Setting the Context’. This is about identifying and calling out the problem statement loud and clear.
Once that’s done, the second step is all about keeping an open mind and ‘Staying Alert to Signals’ from your environment. For example, when the first WAP phone with an FM radio was to be launched in 2001 I started thinking about how could we innovatively combine both these features. Soon inspiration struck in the form of a group of teenagers at a bus stop who were busy playing the Snake game on their phones while listening to music on their MP3 players. At that moment a thought flashed by my mind—the teenagers could be listening to their local FM station while the RJ is interacting with them on their phones asking questions synched to the radio broadcast! This was the genesis of one of my service patents which we eventually productized as ‘Visual Radio’.
Step three is being able to ‘Visualize the product’. A wise man once aptly said, “You create twice, first in your mind’s eye and then in reality.” How true! Honestly the first three steps are an iterative loop until you are able to visualize something very simple and uncomplicated, yet that is feasible and exciting. At the end of this stage, one should be able to visualize all the elements of the product and be able to scope those that could be done in-house and which elements would need industry collaboration.
This takes us naturally to step four which is ‘Engage Others, Create Stakeholders’. Most of the innovation that I have been involved in have included multiple organizations, most of the time from different industries. It is the confluence of aligned goals that has ended up delivering long-term value. Hence it is important that the partners are shown right upfront the benefit of forging the partnership.
Finally, step five is about bringing the product to market. I refer to step five as ‘Name It So People Get It.’ For instance, when we launched the first ring tone composer phone we marketed it as ‘Tones on Your Phone’. Mind you, this pre-dated the ring tone era. Sometimes, we reflect back on those days and wonder why ring tones, which were popularized much later, are called ring tones and not ring tunes or any other name. May be there was something in ‘Tones on Your Phone’ that stuck.
Q: So would you then say that innovation can be systemized?
J.K.: Yes, the innovation process can be systemized, though you cannot shackle in creativity. Creativity is an essential ingredient in creating something new and has to be free flowing in the whole process. The process itself has be a very disciplined one with clear focus on the consumer and the problem to solve. Watching out for signals and testing the feasibility which can be an iterative loop until the solution can be visualized clearly along with partners and finally described vividly with strong consumer appeal. This is a basic common sensical approach which can be systemized by the discipline and rigor that one needs to follow throughout the process.
Q: Sounds very much like the journey you took to create Nokia Life. How about ‘reverse innovation’?
J.K.: Reverse Innovation is all about creating from the ground up, especially in the emerging markets. Unlike taking an existing product from a mature or advanced market and stripping its features to adapt it to an emerging market, reverse innovation is literally far from it.
The cornerstone of reverse innovation is about keeping the consumer and his/her environment central to the whole process and creating products and services from the ground up. In my experience, the five-step process that I described in systemizing innovation is also applicable here.
Many times, products created in emerging markets for emerging markets have also found a market in the advanced countries, thus showing that innovation can flow in the reverse direction, too—from developing world countries to developed countries.
Q: Do you have any advice for your peers in other industries as they attempt to wrap some rigor around the innovation process?
Well, the only rigor that one should apply is the focus on the consumer and locking down the problem that you want to solve very early on. I am sure there are many theories on systemizing innovation and there are many industry practitioners who do this day in and day out. In my personal experience, wherever we have had this rigorous consumer focus and discipline in locking down the problem statement early on we’ve had good success. Innovation germinates from that point on and the rest gets shaped easily. Starting right really accelerates the whole process.
Q: I think we are at a very interesting point in history. What do you believe will drive meaningful innovation, generally speaking, across industries and across disciplines over the next five to 10 years?
J.K.: We are living in an era of collaboration. Everything is in a 2.0 mode, probably already evolving toward 3.0. Going forward, it is predominantly going to be about collaboration. You will see a lot of ‘co-opetiton’—collaborating first to create the market and then competing to differentiate and capture share. I think technologies in most disciplines have matured and the next value you will derive is by merging them so as to create a seamless flow of experiences from one to another.
Q: One last question. What keeps you awake at night?
J.K.: Well, we’ve just launched the Nokia Life Tools 2.0, rebranding it as ‘Nokia Life’. It still works on SMS and continues to have a very rich user interface. We have added in a lot of new social functionalities to it. In a very good way, it keeps me awake at night with excitement on the possibilities that this has now further opened up to grow Nokia Life further and faster, while fulfilling Nokia’s renewed organizational mandate: Connecting the next billion users to information and the Internet.
And that, friends, concludes this Forward Focus interview. I trust we’ve got your gears turning and I look forward to hearing your thoughts both in this forum and in person at FEI 2012 in Orlando, where I’ll be covering the conference sessions for our executive summary and conducting on-camera interviews for our video streamcast series, FEI TV. Please be sure to say hello!
Editor's note: Jawahar Kanjilal will deliver a presentation titled, "Inform, Involve, Empower: An Information Revolution at the Bottom of the Pyramid" at FEI 2012 taking place May 15-17 in Orlando FL.
For more information or to register, please visit us at www.frontendofinnovation.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR/INTERVIEWER
Marc Dresner is IIR USA's senior editor and special communication projects lead. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the market research industry. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @mdrezz.