Innovation that changes the world

Dain Dunston

The Nanovation Effect

“The way to build a complex system that works is to build it from very simple systems that work.”

Kevin Kelly

The story of Nanovation doesn’t end with the delivery of the Nano to the first buyers. In fact, that’s just the beginning. Before the first 50,000 Nanos hit the street, Team Nano was already making announcements of new developments: a Nano designed for Europe; a diesel Nano. There were rumors of a hybrid Nano. And then there were rumors of line extensions, like a Nano van or a Nano pick-up. There was every possibility that a Nano—probably an entirely new design—would be headed for the North American market, perhaps as soon as 2012 or 2013.

But Nanovation—and this book—is about much more than the creation of safe, affordable transportation. It’s about a diverse and far-reaching movement in business and design we believe will radically change the way we think about products and the companies that make them.

We call it “The Nanovation Effect.”

A water purifier a villager can afford.
A $100 laptop computer.
A prosthetic knee for $20.
A modern apartment that costs just $8000.
A portable ultrasound device for rural clinics in China.
A $1000 electrocardiogram for use in Indian villages.
A process that turns non-biodegradable plastic trash into indestructible road surfaces.

Those are some of the stories we see on the first wave of Nanovation, and we’ll explore some of them shortly. But, again, they’re just part of the story. The wave is even bigger than that.

Those are some of the stories we see on the first wave of Nanovation, and we’ll explore some of them shortly. But, again, they’re just part of the story. The wave is even bigger than that.

When manufacturers and designers discover they can use Nanovation to reduce product costs by an order of magnitude and still deliver most of the original performance, how many ways will that disrupt the status quo?

When business leaders discover they can use Nanovation to deliver levels of customer-centric innovation that are literally off the scale; when they can use the Nanovation principles to re-align their company, build customer loyalty and employee engagement, and dramatically disrupt their industry, how will that tilt the playing field to unimagined angles?

When manufacturers around the world discover they can not only build and assemble their products for less in Asia, but radically re-imagine products and processes there; when they discover that they can take innovative cost-saving products designed for the bottom of the pyramid and repurpose them to serve the top of the pyramid, how will that change market fundamentals in the world’s wealthiest countries?

To use a famous malapropism, Nanovation opens up a whole new box of Pandoras from which anything may emerge. It’s that big a shift in thinking.

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Some say that part of Albert Einstein’s incredible genius was his ability to explain enormously complex ideas in simple terms. Maybe, but we suggest his secret was, well, simpler than that. We propose that genius is the ability to see the underlying principles of the complex and chaotic universe in simple terms, and, having seen them, to synthesize them into the vernacular of a discipline that can be easily understood by others.

When Einstein says “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” what he’s saying is that most of us operate from an incomplete view of the situation and a partial set of facts. We make life complicated because we don’t understand it. We make products that are over-produced and over-priced because we don’t think we have any other option.

The competition said you couldn’t build a Nano. Then, when the car was shown to the world, they said they didn’t know how to make one. They said they couldn’t make a car that inexpensive without “sacrificing” something. From their distant vantage point, a car was just a bag of parts and a zero-sum game. Parts cost what parts costs and the only way to reduce costs was to reduce parts. They couldn’t—and perhaps still can’t—conceive of a world in which you can take 80 percent of the cost out of a critical sub-system and have it run as well or better than it did before.

But Ratan Tata and Team Nano could envision that. And their genius, in the case of the Nano and of Nanovation, was to see a problem clearly, to express it effectively and to enroll others in a search for a solution.

The solution was simplicity itself.

After generations of making things heavier, hungrier and more powerful
—because we could— we’re moving the pendulum in the other direction
— because we don’t have to.

Southwest Airlines disrupted the whole airline industry with an extremely simple business model. It built a core competence where no one else was—the short-haul, frequent-flying, non-interlining (not connecting with other carriers) traveler.

They fly only one type of aircraft. Cockpit configurations are similar so pilots spend less time orienting themselves to a new cockpit and more time greeting customers in the jetway or helping ground crews load bags. Maintenance crews use the same parts to service the same kind of aircraft, and flight crews are trained on the safety procedures of only one type of cabin. Flying the same aircraft lowers costs by promoting economies of scale, increases speed, improves service and raises the level of safety.

It works because they keep it simple.

In automotive terms, the horsepower wars are over. The smart wars are beginning.

In housing terms, the McMansion boom is over. The smart, sustainable, human-scale design movement is starting.

In technological disciplines of all kinds, the move is away from feature creep and super complexity and back to elegance.

That doesn’t mean that our cars will be less comfortable or less fun to drive; that our homes will be less inviting and less family friendly; that the galaxy of electronic helpmates in which we orbit will be less interesting and useful. Not at all. But they will be greener, better thought-out and more effective.

It also does not mean that all humans will suddenly become smarter and make better decisions as leaders and managers. But it does mean that someone has moved the game forward and millions of the world’s brightest minds have taken note.

Read about three great examples of the Nanovation Effect at RIGHT.