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In search of reluctant innovators

After returning from the 2011 Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyad last January, I started pulling together a few thoughts on something I’d been pondering for some time – “reluctant innovation”. That first post paved the way for further work, and more recently a guest article in Wired Magazine in the UK called “Genius happens when you plan something else”. You can read that here.

Reluctant innovators are people who unexpectedly come up with an innovative solution to a problem they’ve experienced or witnessed, one which has angered, bugged, disturbed or frustrated them so much that they end up dedicating much of their lives to solving it. They’re innovators, but not through choice, since they never set out to innovate.

In my Wired article I give two examples of reluctant innovators:

One evening in 1996, Brij Kothari was watching a DVD of Pedro Almodóvar’s “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” with friends in Ithaca, New York. The dialogue was in Spanish and the subtitles in English. Out of nowhere an idea popped into his head. As a Spanish language learner, he wished the subtitles were also in Spanish. Turning his attention home, he wondered whether India could become literate if Bollywood-made Hindi films and songs were shown with the lyrics subtitled in Hindi.

The idea behind same language subtitling – or SLS – was born. Today, thanks to Brij’s organization Planet Read, Indian primary school children numbering in the hundreds of millions are learning basic literacy by simply watching their favourite television programmes. Not bad for something conjured up in front of a Saturday night movie.

Then there’s Laura Stachel, whose organisation – WE CARE Solar – designs portable solar lighting kits for maternity wards in developing countries. When she first headed out to Nigeria she planned to work on a different problem altogether, but quickly realised that a simple lack of lighting was responsible for an unacceptable number of mother and child deaths. Maternal mortality rates in Nigeria are among the highest in the world, with a ratio of 1,100 maternal deaths occurring for every 100,000 live births, so she turned her attention to helping design, build and distribute solar kits to solve it. “As an American doctor, it was inconceivable that a hospital could function without reliable electricity. The lack of lighting for a cesarean section was a problem I had never imagined”.

Laura never intended to build and run an organisation, and never chose to become a solar innovator, but seeing a problem she felt compelled to fix, she reluctantly became one. Solar Suitcases are now saving the lives of mothers and babies in hundreds of delivery rooms throughout the developing world.

The more I read about innovation the more I wonder how rare – or ubiquitous – reluctant innovators are. Not only that, I’m beginning to realise how inspiring many of these stories are – ordinary people with little or no track record in innovation or product development beating all the odds to not only create a truly innovative solution to a social ill, but also a successful organisation to effectively deliver it.

Do you know a reluctant innovator? Are you one yourself? If the answer to either question is yes, I’d love to include theirs (or your) story in a new book I’m pulling together. If you’d like to talk, leave a comment below or reach out to me directly through the kiwanja.net website.

Thanks.

51 comments

1 changefeed { 05.08.12 at 6:47 am }

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2 Fr@nthro { 05.08.12 at 7:44 am }

#anthro blog post: In search of reluctant innovators: After returning from the 2011 Global Competitiveness Forum… http://t.co/126DohXg

3 Erik Hersman { 05.08.12 at 1:25 pm }

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4 Angela Oduor { 05.08.12 at 1:27 pm }

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5 Dave { 05.08.12 at 1:33 pm }

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6 In search of reluctant innovators | Global Health Hub: news and blogosphere aggregator { 05.08.12 at 1:37 pm }

[...] Read the original here: In search of reluctant innovators [...]

7 Ken Banks { 05.08.12 at 2:09 pm }

Seeking out ideas/nominations for "reluctant innovators" for a new book. More information at http://t.co/yc9XwJVo #innovation

8 Adrian McEwen { 05.08.12 at 2:20 pm }

Seeking out ideas/nominations for "reluctant innovators" for a new book. More information at http://t.co/yc9XwJVo #innovation

9 Kate.P { 05.08.12 at 2:40 pm }

Seeking out ideas/nominations for "reluctant innovators" for a new book. More information at http://t.co/yc9XwJVo #innovation

10 Denise Ofelia Mangen { 05.08.12 at 2:54 pm }

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11 sava { 05.08.12 at 3:00 pm }

MT @kiwanja: Seeking ideas/nominations for "reluctant innovators" for a new book. +info: http://t.co/eIfewwks #innovation (cc @simoncoronel)

12 openinnovation { 05.08.12 at 3:29 pm }

In search of reluctant innovators | Build it Kenny, and they will come…: http://t.co/Tm7gh4vg

13 PopTech { 05.08.12 at 3:50 pm }

PopTech friend Ken Banks (@kiwanja) is seeking nominations for 'reluctant innovators' for his upcoming book. Details: http://t.co/Eqqcm0C8

14 interflow { 05.08.12 at 3:55 pm }

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15 Krista Donaldson { 05.08.12 at 3:58 pm }

PopTech friend Ken Banks (@kiwanja) is seeking nominations for 'reluctant innovators' for his upcoming book. Details: http://t.co/Eqqcm0C8

16 Lucretia B { 05.08.12 at 4:20 pm }

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17 CSTS at SCU { 05.08.12 at 6:42 pm }

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18 Creatives { 05.08.12 at 7:59 pm }

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19 Manciny Migwi { 05.08.12 at 8:01 pm }

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20 Dann Mchoraji™ { 05.08.12 at 8:17 pm }

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21 Claudia Soria { 05.08.12 at 8:20 pm }

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22 SAMOSA Festival { 05.08.12 at 8:40 pm }

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23 Rossouw Nel { 05.08.12 at 10:32 pm }

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24 Paul Polak and team { 05.09.12 at 3:17 am }

PopTech friend Ken Banks (@kiwanja) is seeking nominations for 'reluctant innovators' for his upcoming book. Details: http://t.co/Eqqcm0C8

25 Tierney O'Dea { 05.09.12 at 3:18 am }

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26 ThinkingDigital Conf { 05.09.12 at 3:21 am }

RT @poptech: Ken Banks (@kiwanja) seeking 'reluctant innovators' for his book. Details: http://t.co/H5jSHkY3 via @TierneyODea

27 Chris Murphy { 05.09.12 at 5:13 am }

Seeking out ideas/nominations for "reluctant innovators" for a new book. More information at http://t.co/yc9XwJVo #innovation

28 Ken Banks { 05.09.12 at 9:31 am }

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29 Ayesha Vemuri { 05.09.12 at 9:39 am }

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30 Dave Foster { 05.09.12 at 10:02 am }

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31 Feyi Rodway { 05.09.12 at 11:11 am }

Seeking out ideas/nominations for "reluctant innovators" for a new book. Details and info at http://t.co/yc9XwJVo #innovation

32 Joan Popolo { 05.09.12 at 11:45 am }

Are you a reluctant innovator?“@poptech: Ken Banks (@kiwanja) seeks noms for 'reluctant innovators' for upcoming book. http://t.co/GemxepRJ”

33 IntraHealthOPEN { 05.09.12 at 2:08 pm }

RT @poptech: Ken Banks (@kiwanja) seeking 'reluctant innovators' for his book. Details: http://t.co/H5jSHkY3 via @TierneyODea

34 TedxChapelHill { 05.09.12 at 2:08 pm }

RT @poptech: Ken Banks (@kiwanja) seeking 'reluctant innovators' for his book. Details: http://t.co/H5jSHkY3 via @TierneyODea

35 Heather LaGarde { 05.09.12 at 2:08 pm }

RT @poptech: Ken Banks (@kiwanja) seeking 'reluctant innovators' for his book. Details: http://t.co/H5jSHkY3 via @TierneyODea

36 Steve Burnett { 05.09.12 at 2:31 pm }

RT @poptech: Ken Banks (@kiwanja) seeking 'reluctant innovators' for his book. Details: http://t.co/H5jSHkY3 via @TierneyODea

37 Steve Burnett { 05.09.12 at 2:31 pm }

RT @poptech: Ken Banks (@kiwanja) seeking 'reluctant innovators' for his book. Details: http://t.co/H5jSHkY3 via @TierneyODea

38 Development Gateway { 05.09.12 at 3:00 pm }

@kiwanja in search of ‘reluctant innovators’ http://t.co/n6SERoVH

39 in2mentalhealth { 05.09.12 at 4:17 pm }

Seeking out ideas/nominations for "reluctant innovators" for a new book. Details and info at http://t.co/yc9XwJVo #innovation

40 Ines Skotnicka { 05.10.12 at 7:21 am }

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41 Yvonne Krywyj { 05.10.12 at 8:03 am }

In search of reluctant innovators http://t.co/b5zThuxB Reluctant innovation starts from the right place-solving problems filling needs #BoP

42 Liberationtech { 05.10.12 at 2:50 pm }

In search of reluctant innovators http://t.co/BKMc9OlK by @kiwanja v @BOPdesigner @ThinkingDigital @poptech @TierneyODea @rossouwn @omangen

43 iDE { 05.16.12 at 2:25 pm }

Ken Banks (@kiwanja) is seeking nominations for 'reluctant innovators' for his upcoming book. Details: http://t.co/Ff5p61EG

44 Trash 2 FUEL { 05.16.12 at 2:29 pm }

Ken Banks (@kiwanja) is seeking nominations for 'reluctant innovators' for his upcoming book. Details: http://t.co/Ff5p61EG

45 Ashoka United States { 05.17.12 at 10:53 pm }

Know someone who creatively solved a problem without intending to? See "In search of reluctant innovators" http://t.co/QBOX4j1N

46 Christina Jordan { 05.18.12 at 11:10 am }

In search of reluctant innovators | Build it Kenny, and they will come… http://t.co/ZHKoLYBp

47 Jeff Edmondson { 05.19.12 at 4:45 pm }

Know someone who creatively solved a problem without intending to? See "In search of reluctant innovators" http://t.co/QBOX4j1N

48 Natalia Grincheva { 05.20.12 at 4:53 pm }

In search of reluctant innovators: http://t.co/mPCPMRKZ

49 Chris Diehl { 06.07.12 at 4:53 am }

. @kiwanja discussing reluctant innovators – http://t.co/fBVJCISq

50 Chris Diehl { 06.07.12 at 4:53 am }

. @kiwanja discussing reluctant innovators – http://t.co/fBVJCISq

51 Innovation: Beyond technology. | Build it Kenny, and they will come... { 06.29.12 at 11:27 am }

[...] in Wired Magazine last month. I’m also planning my first book which will focus on “reluctant innovation“, due out later this year. And I’m doing an increasing amount of mentoring with [...]

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