Startups, Technology

The Technology Route to Start Innovation

This column is by Founder of FORTH innovation method, Gijs van Wulfen

It is considered a classic innovation ‘mistake’: a technology oriented entrepreneur who first discovers a new technology, and later tries to figure out how people can use it. Without a need there will of course be no market. And without a market there’s no viable business model. A great recent example of this issue is the Google Glass introduction in 2012. A Glass user stated that it was an experience that was far less helpful than expected: “I found that it was not very useful for very much, and it tended to disturb people around me that I have this thing.In January 2015, Google shut down their Google Glass Explorer program.

I don’t consider starting with technology a mistake, provided you incorporate a front end activity to match your new technology with relevant market needs, as the yellow Technology Route through through the innovation maze will show you. I will illustrate how you can start innovation with a technology following the structured Technology Route, using Google Glass as a source of inspiration.


The Technology Route

  1. Select Technology: Identifying and selecting the right technology to deliver your new product, service, process or experience.

On April 4, 2012, Google creates a Project Glass account on Google+ and the team at Google X shares its first public post that begins with this mission statement: “We think technology should work for you — to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t. A group of us from Google[x] started Project Glass to build this kind of technology, one that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment.”

  1. Focus: Defining your innovation center-of-interest including all the boundary conditions.

The mission the project is rather vague though. Where should you start? A statement of Serge Brin, one of Google’s founders, helps you to get more focused. He questioned whether we should be “walking around looking down” at our smartphones. He asked, “Is this how you want to connect to other people in your life, how you want to connect to information?… Is this what you were meant to do with your body?” Instead, Google designers wanted to make something “that frees your hands…frees your eyes.”

So what’s your focus? I suggest we narrow it down to “the next wearable communication technology.” As a wearable device, Google has chosen glasses. In this phase I suggest though you to keep your scope wider.

  1. Check Fit: Checking if your idea, technology, customer issue or business challenge fits your personal and corporate priorities.

As a Google employee, you ask yourself “does this really fit my company and me?” Well, creating this revolutionary new technology fits perfectly to the ambition of Google and of Google X, whose aim it is to develop so-called ‘moonshots’ and improve technologies by a factor of 10, developing science fiction-sounding solutions, like the self-driving car.

  1. Create Conditions: Organizing the right moment, the right team, the right pace and the right funding for your innovation initiative.

Where could you better develop a new wearable device than at Google X? Probably nowhere, or perhaps at Apple. Google’s X lab is a great creative environment, as Jon Gertner of Fast Company describes: “Mostly, X seeks out people who want to build stuff, and who won’t get easily daunted. Inside the lab, now more than 250 employees strong, I met an idiosyncratic troupe of former park rangers, sculptors, philosophers, and machinists; one X scientist has won two Academy Awards for special effects.”

  1. Discover: Discovering trends, markets, technologies and customer insights.

First of all, let’s go out first with an open mind and explore your new “technology to explore and share our world.” What technologies are already out there? What is already feasible? What patents are filed in this domain and are interesting for you? What are the latest technological trends? What are other successful initiatives new communication technology? What can you learn from it?

What kind of wearable devices are out there on the market and in development? Let’s buy them, use them and take them apart. What can you learn? Who are the dominant players in wearable devices? Are they successful? Why? Why not? What’s on their R&D agenda? What can you learn from them?

Connect to potential users. Reach out and connect to users of smartphones and other communication technology: your potential customers in real-life. Who are heavy smartphone & tablet users? And why? Who are light or even non-users of smartphones & tablets? And why? What are the dislikes and pain points of both smartphone & tablet users, as well as non-users? And what are their big dreams in communication? Organize focus groups and do ethnographic research of following people 24/7 mapping their communication behavior, pain points and likes and dislikes. Especially in this case, film them to see what’s happening and use their quotes later as a source of inspiration for yourself and to convince others.

Be sure to balance your discovery efforts on both sides of the equation: on the technology side and on the potential needs side.

  1. Ideate: Generating and choosing original relevant ideas for a product, service, process or experience.

Inspired by the trends, technologies and customer insights you, together with your team at Google X, start ideating new ideas for wearable devices to connect to other people in your life and connect to information in a new, free way. First, by generating real outside-the-box ideas; by postponing your judgment. Later, by assessing those ideas with questions like “can it be made?”

In reality, the Glass Google came up with is a so-called optical head-mounted display. It is a wearable device that has the capability of reflecting projected images as well as allowing the user to see through it. The Google Glass prototype came in five colors, were worn like eyeglasses and weighed about the same. Though, instead of lenses, there was a display that was activated by a 30-degree tilt of the head or by a tap of the touchpad. Just above the right eye, a semi-transparent prism reflected an image or 10-word max text from a LED projector directly onto the retina. Navigation was conducted through simple voice commands or by swiping and tapping the touchpad. The touchpad, battery, and other electronic components were housed in the right-side arm. The plastic casing with a processor, camera, and display were also on the right side. Google Glass could be connected to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

  1. Create Business Model: Creating a viable business model.

Google Glass is a completely new to the world product. The question is, what do you do with the business model? Google kept it quite simple by selling them at a fixed price, like you would do with any other communication device these days. For the experiment in the next phase, the sale price was set at $1,500.

  1. Check Freedom to Operate: Checking if you do not infringe intellectual property rights of others.

Especially when you develop new technology, there is a huge risk that you might infringe someone’s patents. That’s why you’re checking in which space you have the right to operate early on in the new product development process. In reality, Google X registered a huge amount of patents while developing Google Glass.  I guess that generating intellectual property rights might be a secondary objective of Google X. And at the same time Google has acquired patents within the scope of the project such as a patent from former Indy 500 driver Dominic Dobson’s Motion Research Technologies, Inc.: multi-use eyeglasses with human Input/Output interface embedded.

  1. Experiment: Carrying out a systematic research or test which validates the adoption and attractiveness of your new product, service, process or experience.

This is the moment to test your prototype to check if it’s attractive, if it really works and if you can make a business out of it. In reality at Google X, it was decided to test in public on a large scale. 8,000 consumers were selected by Google as early adopters or ‘Explorers’ of Glass on the basis of paying the fee of $ 1,500 and by creatively responding on their Twitter or Google+ account to the hashtag prompt #ifihadglass. As you can read in the Google Glass case in chart 17, the launch of the Google Glass test was world news. The ‘public character’ of the test was a deliberate decision: “We debated this decision extensively. Major new consumer tech products are rarely brought out of the lab at this stage of development. But we knew that by putting prototypes into the wild, we’d start to learn how this radical new technology—something that sits on your face, so close to your senses—might be used. We knew that Glass would be unfamiliar and would raise questions about social acceptance, so we wanted to start a public discourse early. In doing so, we hoped to better shape the way the product’s story would be told over time.”

The experiment brought Google great new insights both on how Google Glass was perceived by the public, as well as a lot of malfunctions in the product itself: “The product changed so much from when I first started working on the project until I left.” Another source says, “We were having people pay $ 1,500 to tell us how to fix this thing.” The early Google Glass Explorers gave tons of feedback on what needed fixing. In turn, Google responded swiftly; acting on customer complaints as quickly as they could.

  1. Create New Business Case: Creating a well-founded convincing business case for your new product, service, process or experience.

When it was launched, the Google Glass Explorer’s Program quickly caught the attention and enthusiasm of the business sector. Early on, Deloitte Consulting predicted that “smart glasses” would sell four million units in 2014 at an average price of $500, with demand surpassing 100 million units by 2020. This did not become reality, as Google Glass could not meet internal expectations at Google. A source at Google stated, “We kept missing the benchmarks we had set. All the grand plans that we had at the beginning just did not materialize.” In 2014, Google stopped the experiment. Google X can draw heavily upon the massive lessons learned from their Google Glass public experiment, which they used to pivot the original idea.

My 3 Key Messages

  1. It is considered a classic innovation ‘mistake’: a technology oriented entrepreneur who first discovers a new technology, and later tries to figure out how people can use it. I don’t, as long as you incorporate, at the start of innovation, an activity to match your new technology with relevant market needs.
  2. When you start with new technology, doing experiments with tangible prototypes among potential customers is the best way to learn.
  3. An experiment, like Google Glass can never fail, because even when the prototype does, you have massive learnings, which you can use to pivot your original idea.

Do you like the Technology Route? Then, check out Gijs van Wulfen’s new book at: Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Disclaimer: This is a curated post. The statements, opinions and data contained in this column are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of iamwire or its editor(s). This article was initially published here.

Image Credit: IddEurope

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