Sunday, September 14, 2014

Relative Innovation

From our perspective, our innovation-impact matrix was mediocre. None of our ideas after gathering information and synthesis were especially new.

Throughout the process of developing a product, my team questioned our ideas fundamentally. Through the innovation-impact matrix we saw that our ideas were not particularly new. We did not think a hay baler in itself was not 'innovative.' According to us, a hay baler was not new or interesting. What was even more frustrating: good designs were readily available on the internet. How could we 'develop' something that already existed in other parts of the world?

My team's final prototype: a simple hay baler.

We were frustrated that our synthesis process did not lead to other more 'interesting' and 'innovative' ideas. However, all of these observations were from our perspective as designers. During one team meeting, our design facilitator stated the obvious but poignant statement: what is innovative to you is not necessarily innovative to the community. Our values as participants in the International Development Design Summit led us to want to develop something new. However, that was not necessarily what the community of Orkilili needed.

The community was aware of advanced mechanized grass cutters and hay balers they had seen in nearby cities and markets. However, the community needed a simple technology that appropriately suited their scale.

In retrospect, it seems a lot of the innovation in the developing world does not need to be around the product. Products exist. The real innovation is around the dissemination and delivery of appropriate technologies. Why is Coca Cola the most accessible and ubiquitous product around the world, yet simple agricultural machines are scarce? The problems surrounding affordability and accessibility rely on strong implementation and business leadership.

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