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Innovation – more than just geeky technology

Posted by Nicholas Colloff Director of Innovation

8th Jul 2011

The Finland wilderness led to innovations in mobile phone technology

The results may sometimes be technological, but innovation is a social process, says Nicholas Colloff, in the second of a series of posts on innovation.

When most people are asked to identify innovation, they tend to point to a technological gadget, like their mobile phone. This is wholly understandable as they are  immediately present and are used every day.

However, a mobile phone is not simply a gadget but it is also a social process. The emergence of both the technology and its use depended on people changing how they communicated as well as with what.

So, Nokia emerged as a global leader in mobile phone technology for sociological as well as technical reasons. Finland is a big country with a dispersed population and many people own second 'homes' (which may only be a hut) in the countryside. Many of these homes did not have fixed line connections - being too expensive. How to invite your friends to drop in and have a sauna and a roll in the snow? Answer a mobile phone: people found it incredibly useful and adopted it quickly creating Nokia's first critical mass market. 

Nokia, also, present another key lesson about innovation. It is inherently risky. If you are going to innovate be sure that you (and your team) have the right risk appetite and that you exist in an organisation that supports the taking of risks.  Nokia could neither be sure of the reliability of the technology nor people's willingness to adopt it and be contactable by their boss at all hours. 

People differ in their comfort level in managing insecurity and deciding into the dark: be sure you know at what level this is pitched in any particular case, if you going to know what level of innovation to expect. It will be more likely incremental than disruptive if your team's risk appetite is small. Nokia's clearly was high!

But Nokia also reminds us that many given social processes were (and are) innovations. When the Rochdale pioneers gathered to found their retail shop in the nineteenth century, they were creating that highly resilient social/economic innovation: a co-operative. That has been subject to much incremental innovation since…

Innovation is never simply about things but the way which we work and live together.

Blog post written by Nicholas Colloff

Director of Innovation

More by Nicholas Colloff

Nicholas Colloff