A tale of two innovation approaches
Last week I attended the kick-off meeting for the UK government’s Technology Strategy Board initiative “Collaboration across digital industries: creating sustainable value chains“. They have £5.8m (of tax payers money) to award to “Successful collaborators… to demonstrate how their proposed activity improves or creates new value chains and networks, and show where value is to be created from information, content and services.”
In plainer English, they are looking for companies / universities to come together to develop new digital products. They talked about “pipes” (the ISPs), “Poems” (the content) and “people” (customer demand), with the sweet spot projects being at the interaction of all three.
Last Monday was the kick-off and the competition (document filling) starts on 14th March. The funding will not be awarded until 19th August. Five months before any innovation actually starts. The funding is to support projects that “are expected to last 12 to 24 months”.
During the kick-off, attendees were invited to present their innovation product ideas. These were then voted upon. None were particularly earth-shattering (but then I suppose no-one was going to be putting their best ideas forward in a public space). Moreover, none of them seemed to justify this long and over-engineered process.
Now compare that with this story. Following the floods in Queensland, Australia, on a Thursday afternoon three ThoughtWorkers came together to build a product that would support a Government Telethon to collect donations to help the flood victims.
They had “a little over 48 hours to develop, test and deploy an application that was expected to handle thousands of users. Not only that but an application that, should it fail, would prevent millions of dollars from reaching the people in need in Queensland.”
On Sunday the Telethon aired. “720 requests per minute… with fast response times… In about two hours [they] had over AUD$2,000,000.00 (two million) donated through [the] website”.
It has gone on to raise over $25m.
Another story. Another 48 hours. This time Leanstartupmachine. Eric Ries has a great write up on it. Teams get together and in 48 hours strive to get a customer validated product to market. In some cases this meant ‘pivoting’, discarding the original idea to focus on something else it spawned. (Flickr is the classic example of this, it started out as an online multi-player game, but the photosharing proved to be more feasible and the game was ditched). Eric writes:
In one notable case, a team was able to conclusively invalidate a business that I have been pitched by venture-backed entrepreneurs many times – with a full day to spare. Compared to entrepreneurs who’ve blown millions of dollars pursuing the same vision, this is a way better outcome. Since they had extra time, they tried a pivot into a much more promising idea. By the time of the judging, they had an MVP in the market with real customers signed up.
The UK government has the best intentions with the Technology Strategy Board. But do they need all the process? Why can’t they do what these two case studies did? Indeed it’s the same with most large organisations, innovation is rarely rapid in the way it could be. Bring on the entrepreneurial enterprise that nurtures a culture of rapid experimentation, test, learn; confidence to fail and desire to invest in the successes. Bring on Lean Start Up thinking into the enterprise.
Sometimes the best intentions come in the way. It is the english concept of fairness that seems to be the stumbling block. No one wants to be seen as making random decisions – a process would ensure an audit trail of decision making.
And here’s the deal – they dont even need to make the money available in this form either. All they have to do is provide tax sops and ease the distribution facilities when the idea comes to fruition.
The whole concept of centrally driven innovation is a non-starter IMHO