Innovation that changes the world

Dain Dunston

5. Start with Less, End Up With More

“Less is more only when less is better.”

Roy Spence, Chairman, GSD&M Idea City

One of the tyrannies of our modern world is the idea that the bigger the budget, the more you can solve. And that’s not necessarily true. In fact, far from it. As we’ve seen, limitations force innovation.

V.S. Ramachandran is a neuroscientist who runs the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego. He’s passionate about the benefits of low-tech experimentation because he believes it forces us to be ingenious. He’s the pioneer who found that he could help solve the problem of amputees suffering from “phantom limb pain.” Instead of using billions of dollars of technology, he used a $5 mirror. And if that’s not saying something about Nanovation, we don’t know what is.

What if the pursuit of high-dollar solutions keeps us from seeing low-tech innovations?

What other innovations are we missing because we’re so invested in the high-tech, high-dollar approach that we miss the simple answer? Why don’t we always start with an investigation of low-tech solutions before we start spending big bucks on R&D? Is there a gravitational field around the product development game that people can’t break out of? Does investment in the game blind us to opportunity? Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly stupid.

The creative and efficient use of motion to create a desired outcome is elegant. In his wonderful book, The Pursuit of Elegance, Matthew May points out that elegance is about achieving an “aha” solution with the least amount of effort or resources. Team Nano took this as its mandate.

It took a while for some engineers to understand what Tata was asking for. They kept pricing parts to EU specifications. But when they realized they could simplify, they got inventive. The limitations on cost were so extreme that they forced people to be innovative. Cutting the costs by 80% on most assemblies was beyond normal cost-cutting principles. It required people to change everything they thought about getting the job done.

And when that happened, they began to Nanovate.