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December 2010

Driving Revenue While Changing the World


I was re-watching Chris Trimble's PIPELINE 2010 presentation -- if you haven't seen it yet, you should check it out, it's free -- with an eye to doing a post about one of his key themes (the conflict between Operations and innovation) but realized I'll need to come back to it in a future post. Rather, what makes sense to speak to now, seasonally, is something he alludes to a couple of times: that of the responsibility of innovation to change the world.

At the beginning of his talk, he says that "I think we've lost our way a little bit… because we've let innovation become synonymous with the latest cool gadget… To me, innovation is much bigger than that. To me, innovation is about changing the world."

Sure, I like my iPhone. And with my Causeworld app, I can "check in" to local businesses and then donate my points to charities (hint, hint: download it, it's free). But let's take it to the next level, hmm?

I was watching a recently posted TED Talk video of Tata Motors' engineer RA Mashelkar -- a super-inspirational fellow in his own right -- titled "Breakthrough Designs for Ultra-Low-Cost Products." I don't know where you're reading this, but I'm writing it from the comfort of my American desk with all my American creature comforts. Mr. Mashelkar's reality -- the Indian reality -- is one of a country where 4 billion people earn less than $2 a day.

He talks about Tata Motors' founder, Ratan Tata, giving a small team of engineers the charter to design a car that could hold an entire Indian family safely. His only restriction: it could not cost that family more than $2,000. His only edict: question the unquestionable. Tata was so successful with the Tata Nano that every major car company on the subcontinent has now released its own nano-sized vehicle. But just as importantly, he made Indians believe that they, too, were equal to the dream of car ownership. Ratan Tata is India's Henry Ford (one who puts kids through school. Watch the video.)

He also talks about the Jaipur Foot -- prosthetic limb replacements that are fitted on the spot. In the US, this costs $20,000. The Jaipur Foot costs $28 (I’m sure these prosthetics aren't apples-to-apples comparisons, but for the Indian man who could never afford the US version, having this option must be amazing). I'm not going to do it justice, so watch the video, at about 10:35 in, you will see a man climbing a tree, then jump down and run up and down the lane, all with no pain. It's truly joyous.

This, then, is what the business of innovation can be about. Applying our smarts and technology to generate awesome revenue streams while making a difference in the world.