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Sumesh Arora

SUMESH ARORA: Building a culture of innovation — Part I



Our goal at Innovate Mississippi is to grow the state’s economy through innovation; consequently innovation is a word we use many times on any given day as we work with entrepreneurs, startups, manufacturers and existing industry across the great state of Mississippi. We have even worked with our partners in convincing Gov. Phil Bryant to proclaim November as Innovation Month in Mississippi, which he has done so with a lot of enthusiasm for the last two years.

But you may be asking: how do you know what is innovative?  How do you get companies to innovate? Can you really measure the innovativeness of a region?

The good news is that it does not have to be rocket science to be innovative!  There are well established principles that help us understand what innovation looks like and how innovative ideas spread in any given social ecosystem.   We have tools to identify behaviors of people who may be considered innovators and understand the potential of an innovative product to be actually adopted.

Starting with this column, every two weeks we will look at various aspects of innovation which will include highlighting Mississippi innovators and innovations – people and products.

In this issue, we will look at the features of innovative products and services, specifically five basic qualities that must be present for an innovation to be adopted. Often the inventors and designers of new products label their inventions to be “cutting edge” or “next century” or “advanced” or “revolutionary” to set themselves apart from their competitors, but research has shown that there are five basic qualities which must be present that will enable an innovation to be adopted.  After all, a highly sophisticated, technological marvel is of little value to the society if the intended users have a difficult time understanding and using it!

1.      A perceived “relative advantage” of a solution over the conventional method is essential. The perceived advantage may simply be a boost in social status or it could genuinely increase the practicality and convenience for the user. The greater the perceived relative advantage of an innovation, the more rapidly it will be adopted. For example, it took more than half a century for the telephone to be adopted by 50 percent of American households. However, after the end of World War II, more people saw the benefit of long distance communication and thus the rate of adoption of the telephone grew the fastest from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s. Today, the scenarios are quite different when Apple sells more than 74 million iPhone 6 smartphones in the very quarter they were introduced!

2.      For an innovation to be easily adopted, it must be seen as compatible and consistent with the values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters. When Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007, the only radical difference was how the user interacted with the device. There were several smartphones that came before it – the Motorola RAZR, the Palm Treo and various BlackBerry models – so while Apple did not invent the cellular transmission network, it brought a product to market that relied on an existing physical infrastructure.

3.      Simplicity. Apple continues to make using a phone simpler with big, colorful screens and voice activated commands. While the technology is ever more sophisticated, the goal is to make the user interface intuitive. New ideas that are simple to understand are more rapidly adopted than innovations that require new skills and understandings.

4.      In the 1960s, Everett Rogers, Ph.D., defined “trialability” in his “diffusion of innovations theory” as that which indicates the degree to which an innovation can be experimented with on a limited basis. If a user could try the innovation and not feel intimidated, it represents less risk. Here again, Apple excelled at diffusing their innovative platform (iOS) by allowing others to develop different and creative ways to use that interface. We now call them “apps.”

5.      Results. The easier it is for individuals to visually see the results of an innovation, the more likely they are to adopt it because it lowers their fear of underperformance.

Next time I will take a look at the characteristics of people who are considered innovators and how we can encourage that in Mississippi.  In the meantime, I invite to share your experiences with “revolutionary” companies or products you have come across and see if they really flourished or were duds!  Email me at  sarora@innovate.ms  or follow me on Twitter @DrSumeshArora

» Sumesh Arora, Ph.D, is vice president of Innovate Mississippi, a non-profit organization with a mission to drive innovative business growth in Mississippi.


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