The ABC's of Innovation


Adaptability. Change in business (and in life) is inevitable. And sometimes success can be determined by the responsiveness to such changes. It’s important to keep up with emerging trends and to adapt a business accordingly. Structures within the company should also be flexible enough to adjust at the drop of a hat. Remember Kodak and Nokia? Well, their inability to adapt was the fatal blow to the organizations.

Read about how to Manage Organizational Change.


Brainstorming. Brainstorming can be carried out alone or among a group of people. In a typical brainstorming session, the initial goal is to come up with as many ideas as possible. There is no such thing as a bad idea during this process. Finally, the best ideas are selected and solutions are developed.

Curious about the various ideation techniques? See here.


Creative Confidence. I recently watched a TED talk given by IDEO founder, David Kelley on creative confidence. In his talk, he discussed how as kids, we are full of ideas but somewhere along the line, our creativity is stunted possibly due to unconstructive criticism and negative feedback.

He continues to say that when people regain their creative confidence, they start working on the things that matter in their lives and that they begin to make better decisions.

Remember, we’re all naturally creative and we all possess the intrinsic ability to translate that creativity into solutions.


Disruptive. Disruptive innovation has become a popular buzzword. But what exactly does it mean? The phrase was coined by Clayton Christensen and it describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.

In his definition of the term, he emphasizes that disruptive innovation is not a breakthrough innovation that makes good products better. Rather, it focuses on democratizing technology hence transforming a product to be more affordable and accessible to a larger market.


Empathy. Simply put, empathy is all about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. This person could be your customer, user or competitor. Empathy is crucial in the design process. It’s the core of human-centred design. Understanding the needs, problems, biases and norms of your user greatly informs all products and services.

Read more on empathy here.


Failure. Engineers always design for failure. What that means is that, although failure is to be avoided, it should be put into consideration during the design process.

The reality of the matter is that everything is prone to failure and when something fails, it’s prudent to understand why and to iterate accordingly.

Although no one wants their innovations to fail, some of the greatest innovations were produced accidentally.


Gaps. In 1946, credit cards emerged and revolutionized banking by easing transactions between customers and retailers. Furthermore, in 1969, the need to connect researches at different locations resulted in what we know now as the Internet.

It’s the goal of an innovator to identify gaps and also bridge them through appropriate innovations. The most common way to identify these gaps is through conducting a needs assessment or a gap analysis.

Carry out your own needs assessment with the resources found here.


Hype Cycle. Gartner’s Hype Cycle is a nifty tool that provides a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities.

The reason why I included it into this list is because of the rationale behind the graph which makes one consider if a new certain technology is commercially viable or if it is all just hype.

Interestingly, Gartner added 16 new technologies to the 2016 Hype Cycle, including 4D Printing, Blockchain, General-Purpose Machine Intelligence, 802.11ax, Context Brokering, Neuromorphic Hardware, Data Broker PaaS (dbrPaaS), Personal Analytics, Smart Workspace, Smart Data Discovery, Commercial UAVs (Drones), Connected Home, Machine Learning, Nanotube Electronics, Software-Defined Anything (SDx), and Enterprise Taxonomy and Ontology Management.


Industry 4.0. With the advent of Industry 4.0 (i.e. the smart factory) there’s now a global shift to automation and data exchange in production technologies. According to Mckinsey, this new wave is driven by four disruptions: big data, advanced analytics, human machine interfaces and digital-to-physical transfer (e.g. 3D Printing).

The movement first began in Germany but is rapidly spreading across the globe. Already companies such as Siemens, Bosch and Daimler are already reaping its benefits. Industry 4.0 is the next revolution in manufacturing.

Read more here.


Jobs. Fostering a strong innovation culture in any organization is vital in order to stay ahead of the curve. The rise in innovation leadership is testament to this. Formal innovation roles are steadily taking root in many organizations with titles such as Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), Innovation Manager, Innovation Director, or VP of Innovation.

Key responsibilities of such positions include idea generation, identifying new markets, formulating an innovation strategy, developing employees’ innovation skills and building an innovation ecosystem, just to name a few.

Google, Schneider Electric, BMW, Samsung, IBM, Qualcomm and many of the world’s biggest companies, all maintain innovation leadership roles.

Find out more about Innovation Leadership.


Knowledge. We all know that knowledge is power. To be an innovator means to keep abreast in all the new shifts in technology. But does this information trickle down to our schools?

21st century skills are the solution. They include collaboration and teamwork, creativity and imagination, critical thinking, problem solving, flexibility and adaptability, global and cultural awareness, information literacy, leadership, civic literacy, oral and written communication skills, social responsibility and ethics, technology literacy and finally initiative.


Leadership. Just like technology, leadership styles are also changing to adapt to a more social and connected society. How can you be a great leader in this digital age? The answer is through naked leadership.

The concept revolves around transparency, trust and being open and engaging with others. People want to see their leaders as relatable and approachable not some megalomaniac figure that only runs in aristocratic social circles.


Marketing. Peter Drucker, business visionary extraordinaire, famously said,

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Marketing and innovation work in tandem to sustain any business. Think of it like this, if the company were a car, innovation would be the engine (drives the company), while marketing would be the fuel (propels the company). This fundamental symbiotic relationship between these two fields must work seamlessly together.

Read more on Innovation vs. Marketing.


Nairobi. My city. The African Silicon Savannah and home of innovation in Africa. Nairobi was ranked 10th in JLL’s City Momentum Index (CMI), that determines a city’s capacity to embrace rapid change and its ability to compete in the world, today and in the future.

The three key performance indicators used were socio-economic momentum, long-term momentum and commercial real-estate momentum, where Nairobi ranked 6th, 119th and 6th respectively to scoop the overall 10th position.

Driven by a bustling tech industry, Nairobi is at the cusp of a technological revolution.


Ownership. The controversy between Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell still looms today as to who the rightful owner of the telephone is. Even in 1876, when Bell was issued the patent, intellectual property (IP) was as necessary as it is today.

Innovations are concerned with the commercialization of new ideas while, an invention may not be directly associated with commercialization. Some IP tools that can support technological innovation are a combination of patent, industrial design, trademark, trade secrets and copyrights.

Educate yourself to know which type of IP tool is right for you lest you end up like Gray, forgotten in the annals of history because he was supposedly few hours late to the patent office.


Prototype. The design process is not complete without prototyping. This is the stage that the magic happens. It’s where the ideas come to life!

A prototype is a physical representation of an idea. It can take many forms: a model, sketch, wireframe, etc. Once a prototype is developed, it’s easy to understand the aspects and features that need improvement through user feedback.

Prototyping is a critical step that cannot be overlooked.

Find out more about effective techniques for rapid prototyping.


Quality vs. Quantity. This is an age-old debate that’s highly subjective with each choice having it’s own set of pros and cons.

Specific aspects of innovation like idea generation, testing and research are more quantitatively inclined while prototyping, designing are on the qualitative spectrum.

A combination of both qualitative and quantitative features could prove to be more beneficial at every stage.

Read about how to utilize quantity as an innovation strategy here.


Research. We cannot all be like the late, great Steve Jobs who was not very big on market research. In his own words,

“We built [the Mac] for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research.”

I dare anybody to attempt to launch a successful product or service without carrying out any market research. Any takers? Trust me, your chances of success will be slim.

Read more on Market Research.


STEM. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), is the pillar of innovation. Broadly speaking, possessing a well-educated and entrepreneurial populace promotes and accelerates innovation in any economy.

Building human talent by getting young people interested in STEM at an early age is crucial. Therefore, our education curricula need to be adapted to the ever-changing technology landscape and to incorporate STEM skills in order to ensure a sustainable innovation economy.

Find out more about the importance of STEM.


Test. Before any product or service is released to the market, it will have to undergo a series of tests. Different methodologies can be applied at different stages of development. Waterfall methodology occurs upon completion of all product development while agile methodology occurs as soon as a functioning requirement is built.

Test for success!

Get more information on testing.


User. Design thinking tells us to always put the user first. The process produces user-centered and human-centered designs that are targeted towards the needs and problems of the user.

The best designs are those that are experiential. Rather than just a passive interaction with the product or service, the user should connect with it. The more personal and emotional the engagement, the better the experience.


Viability. Three key innovation drivers are viability (should we do this?), desirability (do they want this?) and feasibility (can we do this?). At the intersection of this trifecta is considered ‘the most valuable solution’.

It’s essential to balance them appropriately for the best results then later evaluating the end product against the initial design requirements.

Read more on Desirability, Feasibility & Viability


Women. Women are under-represented in the innovation world. Personally, I have attended many conferences and talks and the common thread in all is the constant ‘manels’ (panels comprised of all or mostly men).

Women have an equal role in play in innovation and technology just like men. Women bring alternative insights and perceptive to any situation.

According to Forbes, Women drive 70–80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence. Globally, they control $20 trillion in annual consumer spending. Yet, the 2015 GEDI’s Female Entrepreneurship Index reported, the number of female businesses that are in the technology sector has decreased by 19%.

Find out why women are important in innovation.


Xu. Financial investment is needed to grow and accelerate innovation. Hence, Xu, which was a monetary unit in Vietnam that is no longer in circulation.

According to UNESCO, The top five countries for R&D expenditure are (in billions of current PPP-purchasing power parity-$) the USA (PPP$ 454 billion), China (PPP$ 337 billion), Japan (PPP$ 160 billion), Germany (PPP$ 101 billion) and the Republic of Korea (PPP$ 69 billion).

The second African Innovation Outlook survey shows the variation of African countries’ R&D expenditure. Kenya leads in the proportion of GDP spent on R&D. Other countries like South Africa, Senegal, Uganda and Ghana also invest considerably in R&D too.

Basically, many countries need to allocate more Xu into R&D expenditure.


Youth. Energetic, liberal and open-minded, and with the power of 140 characters, the youth could influence a company’s success or sink it to the pits of obscurity.

Mark Zukerberg founded Facebook at the age of 19. Bill Gates began to show interest in computer programming at 13 and later founded Microsoft at 20. Furthermore, in 1999 at 28, SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, sold his web software company, Zip2 to computer manufacturer Compaq for $307 million.

What do all these moguls have in common? They were all in their youth when they started out. There is no negating the value that a youthful team can bring to any organization.

It’s up to business leaders and managers to ensure that they open up opportunities for young people in their organizations through internships, graduate programmes and leadership and professional trainings for career development.

Find out why the youth has an advantage in innovation.


Zippers. The modern zipper was invented in 1913 but its predecessor dates back to 1893. Try to imagine your life without zippers. How would you fasten your pants, shoes, bags, jackets, etc.? It’s a truly remarkable device, simple and practical yet irreplaceable. It’s arguably one of the greatest innovations of all time.

No, zippers are not a key element in innovation, but they represent what all innovation hopes do, outlive its creator, stand the test of time and naturally integrate into the day-to-day activities of its user.

I describe such innovations as ‘zipper technology’. Zipper technology is any appropriate and essential technology that seamlessly integrates into the lives of its user.