Innovation Beyond the Hype
Innovation has become an overused buzzword. That’s dangerous because people could tune it out and that would have big ramifications. All great change in the world comes from innovation; it is so vital to building a better future. We can’t afford for it to become overplayed and tired.
We love talking about innovation because it’s inherently attached to hope and wrapped in inspiration. It sounds a lot less scary than previous topics I’ve written about such asMeritocracy or The Spirit of And. And, yet, innovation actually carries much more risk. True innovation rests on trying, failing, and trying again. The possibility of failure is perhaps the scariest thing of all. It’s also the most spectacular. The result of resilience is nothing short of breathtaking. Thomas Edison failed at forays in mining, construction, and motion pictures, and he discovered hundreds of ways not to build a light bulb before he spread electricity around the world. Babe Ruth held a record for strikeouts, not just a record in home runs. Henry Ford had two car companies fail before he created the one that revolutionized modern production. And, Sony originally launched with a rice cooker that allegedly burnt rice before it went on to become an electronics powerhouse.
Although we only like to celebrate the glorious successes, innovation also includes a daunting amount of failures. Innovation is about iterating, failing, learning, and trying again. I have been fortunate in my career to witness firsthand innovation in action and see its potential to change industries and ultimately the world. From my early days at IBM working in the division that changed computers with the introduction of the PC to Bay Networks literally “switching” up the IT network infrastructure to eBay’s role in the ecommerce revolution to today at LiveOps where we are not only helping companies take the leap with cloud computing but enabling more individuals to find opportunities to work and improve their lives.
I’m inspired by what I see with the on-demand, cloud computing trend because it brings together the best of the consumer and enterprise environments to enable a vast number of other organizations, such as non-profits, to operate with more agility, more scalability, more reach, and more innovation. For example, in times of natural disasters, it used to take days to set up a contact center to help connect dislocated individuals or to fundraise and often these were very limited in scope. But as LiveOps has shown with an on-demand workforce of call center agents and the cloud-based technology to route calls, responding to nonprofits need for help can be a matter of hours vs. weeks. (“LiveOps Proves Value of At-Home Agents in Live Telethon” TMC, July 30, 2010)
Also, we are now using these tools to dramatically accelerate innovation in education, medicine, and poverty.
One of my favorite examples is using the cloud to evolve the geography-based school system that has been in place for a century. With “Back to School” upon us, many of you will relate that a child’s education is most parents’ biggest priority. Parents jockey to get their kids in the classes with the best teachers, but still they are deciding amongst only a few options. What if you had more transparency and access to the teachers and the best curriculum outside of your zip code to teach your child? K12 is one organization that cloudsources education to a network of teachers. K12 even works with some school districts to ensure the computer, Internet connection and all school supplies are covered. Online education isn’t right for everyone, but I applaud the idea that students can receive the education they desire—and deserve—without the barrier of proximity or affordability in their way. By applying innovation and technology we can revolutionize the system so that a quality education becomes more of a right than a privilege.
Another area leveraging amazing innovation is medicine. Telemedicine has been around for a few years but, as the New York Times reported, recent advances by companies like Cisco, and startups like NuPhysica, are focusing on using tech to connect doctors and patients to provide online care when they are at home or work. This is incredible because one-fifth of Americans live in places where primary care physicians are scarce, according to government stats. Now, they will have a way to access to the care they need.
As many know, I am personally passionate about changing the way we work and the accessibility and flexibility of work. I am energized by an offshoot of that idea that focuses on providing web-based work to people in the developing world. We know the only way out of poverty is work, but work in the developing world is hard to come by. Samasource is a non-profit that uses the Internet to bring computerized “micro-work” to women, refugees and others like the 150 million unemployed people in Africa or the 130 million surplus workers in India who need opportunities. Samasource (Sama means equal in Sanskrit) couldn’t have existed years ago. But today thanks to an increase in global literacy and more affordable technologies we have an opportunity to bring more choices to people who were previously bound by the limits of their circumstances and geographies. So far, Samasource has helped bring 800 workers, supporting 4,000 people, out of poverty.
As Samasource’s founder Leila Chirayath Janah says, “The future is about humans and computers working together to get stuff done.” I couldn’t agree more. And, when I look around and see how people are innovating to change entire industries and demographics, I know that the future is here. In fact, to borrow from author Michael Malone, I know it arrived yesterday.