Becoming Rich by Designing for the Poor

(This essay was first published on Egology – The Ideafarms Blog on December 12, 2013)

Last year, Amit Gulati, who runs Incubis Consultants, invited me to participate in an interactive session to think through design ideas for a low-cost washing machine. The workshop brought out some very interesting and fascinating ways of seeing’ that completely overturned the engineering / tech / product way of approaching design problems. Did we need to redesign the washing machine (Product) under stricter constraints [this is the way most people think – start with an existing product, strip it of features, use cheaper materials and processes, reduce quality and make it low-cost], or did we need to go up a level and reframe the problem itself.

Orbits of Influence

Image Courtesy: Incubis Consultants, 2013.

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In the old days — as recently as the dying years of the last century — technology was trying to keep up with our needs. But instead of playing catch up, its pace overtook our needs. In the end, technology, especially those products that were powered by the silicon chip, won the race. Today we have more technology than we need and yet, rather than using what already exists to solve societal problems, we still go after creating more and more technology for the narrowest part of the pyramid – the top. Continue reading “Becoming Rich by Designing for the Poor”

Social Media to save eGovernance

The Internet is not what it used to be a mere decade ago. With 130 million broadband users in India, it clearly has arrived to higher goals — and obstacles — in its growth path.

via E-governance is passe, i-governance is in – Hindustan Times.

The corridors of power echo hushed allusions to probity, accountability and transparency. NIC won’t let go and the bureaucracy can’t find a way to go around the ‘3-quotation’ process settled before Independence.

Social Audit, Citizen Empowerment, Graft etc. can all be achieved by simply bolting Social Media on eGovernment databases. Sadly the very knowledge that catapulted India into IT superpowerdom is holding the nation back from using technology sensibly and to service the underserved rural citizenry.

Innovation 101 – Rethinking Poverty: Affluence is not a prerequisite for creativity

“The minds on the margin are not marginal minds”. The most powerful statement I have heard in a long time. I urge everyone to watch this no-holds-barred TED video (opens in a new window) where Professor Anil Gupta, founder of the Honeybee Network makes point after point about grassroots innovation and how our great need for one-size-fits-all business models fall miserably short of what is needed.

Professor Anil Gupta, Founder - Honeybee Network

In his own words, here is how he started Honeybee

And one day — I don’t know what happened — while coming back from the office towards home, maybe I saw a honey bee, or it occurred to my mind, that if I could be like the honey bee, life would be wonderful. What the honey bee does: it pollinates, takes nectar from the flower, pollinates another flower, cross-pollinates. And when it takes the nectar, the flowers don’t feel shortchanged. In fact, they invite the honey bees through their colors. And the bees don’t keep all the honey for themselves. These are the three guiding principles of the Honey Bee Network — that whenever we learn something from people it must be shared with them in their language. They must not remain anonymous.

“They must not remain anonymous.” If you listen to the ‘silent’ pieces of his talk you hear frustration, helplessness, trauma, longing and urgency in equal measure. He espouses a fairness test that he first applies to himself before he preaches.

Professor Gupta, may your tribe increase!

The VALUE of Negative Innovation 101

This morning’s HT Business piece “Can India become the Coca Cola of the BPO sector” by my friend N. Madhavan, (twitter: @madversity) shows how India is steadily cornering the ‘back-office’ business. His article got me thinking about whether this has happened by design or is the kind of happy accident that made India an IT superpower by the Y2K paranoia of the west. Here’s why.

The Indian service industry is fast mastering the art of Negative Innovation. When they try to add value they end up becoming a nuisance.

Negative Innovation Case #1: 0.75p for Voice SMS, Value Added Service (VAS) –  Airtel.
I scroll down my list of contacts and call N. Madhavan. Maddy’s on another call so this ‘friendly’ VAS kicks in telling me I can leave a voice sms for him. Easy! So what does it ask me to do? Without hanging up, I have to dial his TEN-DIGIT-NUMBER followed by STAR or HASH (I don’t remember which) and VOILA!!! . . . I can leave a voice sms for him. #Fail. I was telling someone the other day that if Airtel could show me ONE . . . O N E person who had ever used the service, I’d eat my words now and forever more. VALUE for whom? Continue reading “The VALUE of Negative Innovation 101”

Catalytic Innovation for cataclysmic social transformation

Two new words have entered the ever-growing repository of adjectives that are prefixed to INNOVATION – “reverse” and “catalytic”.

I have a problem with the word “Reverse” for its connotation; first we were called an underdeveloped nation, later to be euphemistically toned down to ‘developing’. (Reverse has to have originated in the West’s lexicon to mean backward – pun intended).  

Google Search for Reverse Innovation

Catalytic Innovation however, for me, has some very insightful and valuable realities attached to it. Continue reading “Catalytic Innovation for cataclysmic social transformation”