This is the fourth of several ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on ‘What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?‘. Here is the next perspective in the series:
by Ric Merrifield
I define innovation as figuring out a way to accomplish the same outcome, the “what” we do, in a way that doesn’t resemble “how” we used to do it. Flight check-in over the web doesn’t resemble the experience of talking to the airline employee at the counter, but it accomplishes the same three outcomes (confirming a reservation, conducting a survey, and managing logistics when there is luggage). A revolution, by contrast, I would define as an innovation that results in a dramatically different, or richer experience. E-mail and text messaging haven’t just replaced prior forms of communication, they have revolutionized the way we communicate in ways we couldn’t imagine 20 years ago.
Right now, I see very distinct places where innovation is desperately needed, and at the same time, I see a place where a revolution isn’t quite overdue, but it’s getting there.
The most urgent innovation needs are in U.S. health care and energy. People in Washington are chipping away at ways to improve the administration of health care and the role of insurers and doctor incentives, and while I will grant that those are all big messes that need cleaning up, that’s not where the greatest need is. The greatest need is to stop people from needing to see the doctor in the first place and the way to do that is managing wellness in a structured, disciplined way. People get there insurance through their work in the US, and the companies should mandate regular checkups and the insurers should provide statistics (not at the individual level – for obvious privacy reasons) as to where the risks are and then invest in wellness programs accordingly.
Just at Microsoft alone, if they don’t take action on diabetes and obesity alone, in less than six years they will have to spend about $70 million more each year – and most of that will be avoided if the high risk employees lose just six pounds before they turn 46 (source: The American Diabetes Association, and Microsoft Corporation). People ask about the return on investment from wellness programs – there it is. Energy – this one is harder but more obvious. The car replaced the horse, we need something to replace our dependency on petrochemicals. I don’t know where it will come from, waves, wind, cold fusion, whatever, but we need it soon.
As for where the revolution is needed, or why, I would say we need it because we are in a new era – the era I will call post-decentralization.
We grew up in a world of a finite number of TV stations, the record labels decided what music we would listen to, and we all got newspapers (all very centralized sources of news, entertainment, music, and information). Now, we are in a very different world that includes social networking, YouTube, blogs, iTunes, and the iPhone. Most of the sources information, music and content have become almost cartoonishly decentralized.
That’s great from a control perspective, but except for those who are really on top of it all, it’s hard for people to feel comfortable that they are getting connected to the right stuff that’s most aligned with their needs and interests. We need innovations to do better match making between consumers and all of these decentralized sources of apps and content. I shouldn’t have to find the best news articles, blogs, video clips, and music, they should find me based on who I am and what I am interested in. I happen to have some ideas on how that will happen – but that is going to allow us to really fulfill the potential of the internet, and it will be awesome.
You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on ‘What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?‘ by clicking the link in this sentence.
Ric Merrifield is known at the “Business Scientist” at Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, WA and is the author of “Rethink“. He blogs about ways to rethink through getting out of what he calls “the ‘how’ trap”.