It’s just all gonna be too expensive

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A little story on innovation hurdles

In the next 40 to hundred years (not days 😉  Elon Musk wants to lower the price of a journey to Mars from currently $ to 200.000 $. That’s 5 less digitsor a reduction of the price by the factor 50.000 or 0.0002 or 0.002% It is something you can beliefe or not, but it’s the plan. The plan is driven from the desire to solve a problem: So, Elon Musk wants to populate Mars. But the reason is, that it is hard but even more that he wants to solve issues of mass population on our home planet or – a little more background theory – he wants to drive our civilisation towards a type 1 or even type 2 civilization.Again, the point is not if we believe in this or share the thoughts but that we see that Mr. Musk is driven by this!

Now to our little innovation story: Imagine a small team having an idea. Any idea, a novel idea. After a little time of research a first calculation results in depression: All this will be too expensive, much too expensive, say 10 times too expensive. No one will pay for this.

In most companies the following will now happen: The “business plan” will be revised and dismissed, the team will be dissolved and go back to work. The team might even go to the boss themselves and say: “We looked at it, it doesn’t resolve, the budget does not fit, let’s stop this.” This happens when a company is not used to innovate. The innovative company knows: This is where it gets interesting, this is where the work actually starts. What compromises might help solve the problem? which completely different solutions could there be? Are there different ways of (cross-)financing this? Are there other ways and channels to reach the customers? It might also help to make the issue bigger and more pin pointed by trying to find a solution which is still 10 times cheaper than we actually need to assume (looking for a dark horse). Can we thus drastically simplify the product? There are many ways to address this innovation blocker. But what is needed here is unconditional love for the problem.

We need to have “fallen in love with the problem”. If we have already fallen in love with the solution and not with the problem behind it, we are smashed and depressed and can not come up with the energy to find another solution. We can’t even think broad enough. To work this way, we need to identify with a valid and relevant problem. Easy said, harder done in my observation. The whole idea of starting with a problem is counter intuitive to most work environments and needs practice.

This little piece was once part of my (now nearly monthly) newsletter. I’d be happy if you’re interested and subscribe here. Thanks 🙂

Picture rights: Jack Thurston [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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