Breakthrough Innovations

Introducing Vycle:

Vycle is a human-powered vertical transport system for our expanding cities. It’s a cross between a cycle and an elevator. This enables us to use the concepts of riding a cycle but instead of going forward, we go up. This idea also combines the idea of allowing us to do a little bit of exercise over the course of the day, without having to take time out to exercise from our schedules. There is already a growing body of science that shows that non-intensive and consistent movement through out the day might be much more beneficial than intense workout for 45 mins and limited or no body movement for rest of the day.

vycle – urban vertical movement from Elena Larriba on Vimeo.

Introducing Encore Cistern:

Encore has created a toilet system that uses the water condensed from air-conditioning for flushing toilets. Currently, the condensed water from air conditioning is mostly wasted. This product has the potential to save millions of gallons of water and re-use it as the water for use in the toilets. You can find out how this product works here.

Introducing Koda from Kodasema:

Koda is a movable 150k£ home that can be moved and placed wherever there is an open space. It just requires a space of 30 sq. metres. It doesn’t require a foundation –> so can be moved from one place to a different place using trucks & it can be quickly set up. This could potentially be a great solution for affordable housing, without any compromise in the quality of the home from the inside. On the contrary, it looks and feels very good when we are in the home. You can take a virtual tour of the home here. You can also watch a video that shows how it looks and feels here.

So, what is common in all of these three very diverse products? What is it about these ideas that makes them unique and clearly innovative, with the potential of creating new markets, if executed well.

Multiple Problems addressed by a single solution:

Each one of these ideas combine two or more different challenges and address them together in one single solution. Most creative ideas that go one to become product or categories by themselves have similar applications.

  • Uber solved multiple challenges (hassle free transportation for one set of customers & creating a new income stream for another set of customers) with one solution.
  • AirBnB does the same as well (a different experience, potentially cheaper, better and a more intimate travel experience for the traveller and the ability to make some extra money for home owners).
  • Kickstarter does the same as well (a way for makers to find takers for their products by bye-passing gate-keepers and a platform for early adopters to find and fund cool ideas. Quirky does the same but in a different way.

And if we look at various other category creating products, there is a good likelihood that the product addresses multiple challenges with the single product.

Challenge Conventional Wisdom:

All of them break conventional wisdom in their respective spaces. It takes someone who challenges the conventional wisdom of the air conditioner industry to even think about the water that condenses as a result of air-conditioning and see that as a potential opportunity. Similarly, it takes someone who can challenge the conventional wisdom that cycles are supposed to move forward and back and not up and down. Similarly, it takes someone who can challenge the conventional wisdom that houses need to be built upon a strong foundation and it takes a lot of time to build a house.

In conclusion:

So, when we are looking for potential ideas to develop a product, it would be a good idea to either create constraints around solving multiple challenges at the same time. This forces us to go beyond the usual, boring ideas and allows us to explore truly creative solutions. This also makes it that much more difficult for potential competitors to replicate your solution.

PS: Here is a hilarious video that shows how the birthing of ideas:

Birth of an Idea from The Upthink Lab on Vimeo.

PS: PS: Here is a great TED Talk by Steven Johnson about “Where good ideas come from

Story of the First Digital Camera

In this short 4 min video, the inventor of digital camera, Steven Sasson shares how the first digital camera that he developed worked.

He also shares his insights on how to present a novel idea to an audience, so as to not confuse them.

He also shares a very important insight that as inventors and makers of products, we should not forget that there is a lag of time between the time that we concieve or invent something and the time we are able to actually bring it to market. During this time, there are other inventors who are also working to invent new technologies and better products. Also, during this time period the customer might have moved on and the need that we try to satisfy no longer exists for them.

Very nostalgic and insightful 3:42 mins. Thanks David for creating the portrait. You can find more such portraits here.

For a much more in-dept discussion on the entire story of how he invented the digital camera in an interview he did for the Internet History Podcast here.


PBTO56: The Inevitable – Technological Forces that will Shape Our Future with Kevin Kelly

Credits: Opening music credit goes to Riju Mukhopadhyay & Pavan Cherukumilli

Who is on the show today:

Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor for its first seven years. His new book for Viking/Penguin is called The Inevitable, which is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. He is also founding editor and co-publisher of the popular Cool Tools website, which has been reviewing tools daily since 2003. From 1984-1990 Kelly was publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical news. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers’ Conference, and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985. His books include the best-selling New Rules for the New Economythe classic book on decentralized emergent systems, Out of Control, a graphic novel about robots and angels, The Silver Cord, an oversize catalog of the best of Cool Tools, and his summary theory of technology in What Technology Wants (2010).

Why is he on the show:

In his latest book “The Inevitable“, he talks about 12 trends that will shape the way our society will evolve. This is already a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller.

What do we talk about:

In this free-wheeling conversation, we talk about:

  • His interest and curating non-fiction films. He has a curated list of some of the wonderful documentaries on his site here.
  • The 12 trends that are directions that technology is going to move towards, that seem to be inevitable. He lists them as verbs (Becoming, Cognifying, Flowing, Screening, Accessing, Sharing, Filtering, Remixing, Interacting, Tracking, Questioning , Beginning)
  • Trends are inevitable, the form and function is not.
  • Technology vs Societal view points of view to look at the future..
  • How Technology has its own agenda..
  • Have these trends have been behaving since the time the book was written..
  • How Moore’s law would have served you really well if you believed in it..
  • Artificial intelligence and how this is going to play out..
  • How can entrepreneurs make use of these trends and place themselves at the fore-runners when these trends play out and become mainstream
  • How can we stay relevant in the future where these trends are becoming mainstream?
  • What do these technologies and trends mean for us as a society and culture? How do we prepare for the future that is coming?
    • Access vs ownership
    • Products vs services
    • Tangible vs intangible
  • A 1000 true fans and how this coupled with the trends that we are talking about provides a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to profit from.
  • What are some of the most important skills that we need to learn in order to stay relevant:
    • To learn how to learn (Meta skill or the super skill). Figure out how we learn best or our own kind of learning.
    • Learn how to ask questions.
    • Techno-literacy and critical thinking
  • How he learns and stays up-to-date with what he sees happening around him?
  • What he thinks is obvious but no one sees it yet (A very surprising answer)..
  • Documentary he recommends – Becoming Warren Buffet. You can watch the documentary below:

How can you connect with him:

You can find his blog here. You can subscribe to his weekly newsletter here and buy his latest book here.


There is Algorithm and then there is a self-learning Algorithm

There is a lot of noise about the importance and how machine learning is changing the world of business and thereby world around us. There is a lot of examples being shared about the success of recommendation engines of Amazon or Netflix or even some retail giants.

But is that really machine learning at work or is it still the work of some really smart and savvy programmers who have created an even smarter algorithm? Is the algorithm learning and creating a better algorithm than the one written by its creator? If yes, that would be a result of machine learning in action.

Contrary to popular or mainstream conversations, I have not really seen a lot of machine learning algorithms in play as we speak right now. We do have a lot of smart algorithms written by some very smart and savvy people, using a lot of data that seems to be powering the internet for now.

Have you seen algorithms in action, that continue to learn from the data that they feed on, by themselves and evolve? If yes, please do share them with us.

3 Character Traits of a Good Innovation Manager


Almost every CEO that i meet wants to find out a way to out-innovate their competition. They want to innovate to improve their profits. They want to innovate so that they can help their customers innovate. And in the same breath, they also say that almost all their innovation projects are either struggling to take off or have not yielded the kind of results that looked possible. They all want to know what could be the potential reasons and what can they do to address this situation, given their current limitations.

If there is only one thing that if changed, can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the innovation projects in an organisation, it is the person who is leading the innovation program. There are fewer low hanging fruits for organisations that can have as much impact as having the right person leading the innovation program.  I have found that managers who have the following traits prove to be much more successful in leading innovation efforts than managers who don’t have them. So, here are the character traits that helps manager succeed in their innovation efforts.

Comfortable with ambiguity:

Managers who are successful with innovation projects are comfortable with ambiguity. They know that by definition, an innovation program is walking into unknown territory, with nothing but a map and a destination in mind. There will be times when there seems to be no progress being made. There will be times when it will seem like the team is going backwards. And then there will be times when there seems to be a lot of progress. The managers understand this dynamic and are comfortable with all of these and they trust the process and their team. Not only are they comfortable with all of these, they also ensure that their teams don’t get swayed too much by either lack of visible progress or too fast process.


Managers who are successful with innovation projects are extremely persuasive. Their persuasive abilities are tested every single day. They persuade their team that they are on the right path, when they feel lost. They persuade them that they need to slow down when they seem to be on a roll (but maybe in the wrong direction). They need to persuade their superiors to continue to fund the program, irrespective of any visible progress. They need to persuade their peers to collaborate with their teams. This means that in order to successfully navigate an innovation program, the managers need to understand and be experts in the art of persuasion.

Well – Balanced:

Managers who are successful with innovation projects are extremely well-balanced people. They are emotionally mature people. They understand that the entire journey of coming up with an innovation is a roller-coaster ride. There will be times when you feel on top of the world. Then there are times when you feel like burying yourself somewhere all alone. Then there are times when everyone on the team seems to be at conflict with one another. A good manager knows and understands all of this. He is able to facilitate the right kind of conversations within the team, appropriate to the stage of the innovation process.

In Conclusion:

All of the above are good characteristics to have in any manager. However, they are especially critical in an innovation manager, as the stakes are higher. A good innovation team will typically have a lot of different personalities and personality clashes in a highly charged environment is common. So, it is important to identify a manager who has all three of these traits to lead an innovation project in your organisation, to ensure that you don’t risk failure right from the start.