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In Innovation, Go Slow to Go Long

I see innovation as a process, a systematic process that repeatedly solves problems and creates surprising breakthroughs. This systematic process has consistently brought streams of pleasant discoveries and surprises.

In running marathons, some say, "go slow to go long". Prepare for the race; get all your gear ready. Test them in practice runs. Figure out which works and which does not. And on race day, pace yourselves; go slow to go long. While first-time runners hope for the best outcome, seasoned marathon runners know to repeat the outcome on practice runs.

Singapore Marathon 2023, possibly my 20th full marathon race (I've lost count)

In innovation, there is a lot of prep work, too.

  1. Identify urgent, meaningful problems to solve.

  2. Identify how the problems are solved today and why existing methods are insufficient.

  3. Invent and design a better solution and demonstrate the feasibility of the solution.

  4. Propose how to multiply the solution's impact to as many as possible (with the appropriate go-to-market) strategy.

Innovation "practice runs," to me, involves empathy - understanding what the users want to achieve. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand what the user wants to achieve/overcome/fulfil. Explore alternatives to address the need, zoom in on the specific, and broaden our perspectives by thinking out of the box. Socializing with wide spectrum of industries (e.g. F&B, medical care, consumer electronics, automation, automotive), helps me understand the cadence and industry-specific norms and regulations and constraints, understand why they do what they do.

Innovation "practice runs" also involve collecting and assembling a solutions toolbox of emerging technology, techniques, methods and know-how. And when a problem is identified, a better solution could be constructed with this toolbox of technology and know-how.

Innovation starts with solving a real problem, one that many users desire a better solution..

The innovation process involves lots of probing and testing. The easiest way is socializing, asking questions, and running hypothesis testing. Sensing the needs, the tone of responses, observing what people do and not just what they say. Figure out the weightage of the importance of each feature with market testing and recognise that there are no standard "right" or "wrong" answers in the real world. "Good enough" is often the passing criterion of hypothesis testing. And we define what is good enough for us through hypothesis design, figuring out what impact we want to drive.

It is a fun process as I enjoy the surprising outcome every time. In one instance, the innovation process transformed a team that first wanted to build a loss-and-found app. Through inquisitive interviews and user empathy investigations, the team discovered that users did not just want to recover lost items; they wanted more: someone to comfort them, calm their nerves and provide hope of recovery of their lost item in the meantime. We further discovered that such a loss-and-found platform could sell more commonly lost items like earphones, personal devices, and accessories.

I am energized about the outcome of the innovation process. If someone wants a systematic process for creativity, the innovation process could create surprising outcomes every time.

I find pleasure in working with problem solvers to discover the next big thing that makes a meaningful impact on people. And I hope you are too.

But first, go slow to go long in innovation. There is a systematic process instead of haphazard inspiration or a stroke of luck.

- Patrick Ng, Dec 2023.

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