Saturday, May 13, 2017

Innovation Flow - TEDx Live Talk at Pune

Transcript of my talk at TEDx Live event at Pune on 28 April 2017

Friends, I am here to share with you a secret – a secret recipe. It took me ten years to figure this out – it is a collective learning from coaching about a thousand innovators – I will share with you, in the next ten minutes, how to grow your idea into an innovation.

1.1 The challenge of converting ideas into innovations – the fear of rejection

Most of us are reasonably good at spotting a good idea – but not all good ideas become innovation – innovation seems be a totally different animal. If you start with a hundred good ideas, can you guess how many will convert to successful innovation? It is hardly two or three – the conversion is very poor. Of the many barriers to converting ideas into innovation, I would like to take up the most powerful one. It is the fear of rejection – the fear of being laughed at for suggesting a crazy idea. How do we overcome this barrier?

1.2 The Logical Brain Vs the Creative Brain

Let us look at how a typical idea generation exercise – a brainstorming session is conducted. I remember, I was fresh out of IISc with a Ph.D degree and a bag full of ideas at that time. I happened to sit next to an expert during the brainstorming session. I had great regard for the expert and I wanted to get his views before I share my ideas with others – I didn’t want to run the risk of being laughed at. The expert kept shooting down my ideas – citing valid reasons like lack of feasibility, viability etc. Very soon, I went blank – after three consecutive rejections, I could no longer create a new idea. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. I thought that I should not sit next to the expert the next time. But, friends, these are not two individuals that can be separated – this is the cognitive dialogue that takes place all the time between the logical and creative hemispheres of your brain (popularly referred to as the left and the right brains). So how do we keep the logical brain quite for some time, so that that creative brain can generate a few fresh ideas without any inhibition?

1.3 How to Zap your Logical Brain

Let us do an exercise of generating ideas while keep our logical brains zapped. Our logical brains won’t understand illogical situations – so the clue is to work in an illogical situation so that the logical brain cannot reject the ideas. Let us say we want ideas for designing an innovative school. What are the common assumptions that you would make about a school – we need a building, a teacher, books, students etc to run a school. Now pose the questions what if I don’t have a building ? what if I don’t have teachers ? what if I don’t have books ? what if I don’t have students ? – when you reverse the common assumptions, you are in a territory that is unfamiliar to your logical brain. Now you generate ideas – so what if I don’t have a building – I will run my school in a park, I will run my school in an old bus or train compartment, I will run my school online etc. So what if I don’t have teachers – I will use videos, senior students can teach junior students, parents can volunteer as teachers, I will let the students to work in team and experiment and learn from each other etc. if you observe what we are doing here – we are generating many ideas in an unconstrained manner – the creative brain is working at full steam without being hindered by the logical brain. The logical brain is busy figuring out what we are trying to do – why the hell does he want to run a school with teacher – have you gone crazy – no one has ever run a school without a teacher – ignore him, he has gone crazy! Thus, the trick to zap the logical brain is to reverse the assumptions and then generate ideas. These ideas would have easily got shot down by the logical brain otherwise.

1.4 CREATE – Think divergent

To further generate more ideas, we could use divergent thinking tools. One such example is CREATE – let us say that you want to create innovative variants of this pen – you ask what can I combine (maybe a LED, a stylus, a USB storage etc), what can I rearrange , what can I enhance (cartridge life, aesthetics etc), what can I adapt from elsewhere (what can I adapt from nature) what can I turn around (reverse – can the pen be stationary and the paper move) and what can I eliminate (can I make a pen that does not need ink)? CREATE is an acronym that will trigger your divergent thinking and put you in six different directions. Remember - good ideation happens in two distinct phases – divergent followed by convergent thinking.

1.5 Make your idea work within the constraints

Now that you have a bunch of ideas, the next step for you is to recognize the real-life constraints under which the idea is to work. If you recognize the constraints early, then you get the opportunity to shape your idea in the right direction. I derive my inspiration to overcome constraints from a story from the Hindu mythology where an evil-minded Rakshasa (demon) asks God for a boon that he become immortal – God says that it is the law of nature that everybody born will die – ask for anything else. The smart Rakshasa asks for a series of boons that will make him almost immortal – I should not be killed by a human or animal, I should not be killed in the day or in the night, I should not be killed on the floor or in mid space, I should not be killed inside the building or outside the building, I should not be killed by any known weapons – surprisingly, God grants all these boons. The Rakshasa becomes over confident and arrogant and starts harassing the people – the people pray to God to Kill the Rakshasa and save their lives. Now God needs to design around these five strong constraints to kill the evil Rakshasa – he comes up with an innovative plan. He comes as a lion-man (Narasimha) at the dusk time (neither day nor night), drags the Rakshasa to the doorstep (neither inside nor outside), puts him on his lap (neither on floor nor in mid space) and rips him apart with his claws (no weapon). God could work around such severe constraints and create an innovative solution. There is nothing to worry about constraints – you only need to recognize them and factor them while evolving your idea.

1.6 Innovation Flow

Now, I wish to introduce a simple framework that you can use to grow your idea into an innovation. I call it FLOW – after the three stages involved in the process – Focus, Leap & Orient and What’s next. The Focus phase is all about studying the opportunity space, gathering insights and formulating the right problem. Next step is for your mind, that is full of past ideas, to create space for new ideas – we call this phase the Leap. You have to let go your old ideas (though they faithfully worked for you in the past) and take the bold leap into the space of new ideas. The analogy here is the performance of the trapeze artist in a circus. She lets go her swing and takes the leap – but she has to orient herself towards the opposite swing and grab it at the precise moment. Leap is always accompanied by Orient – simultaneous events. Leap – Orient can be letting go one technology and orienting towards the next-gen technology – the classical transition of the S-curves. And finally, What’s next – how is technology changing, how is the market need changing – what will be different in the next five to ten years? Define the next problem. Thus the innovator has to take his idea systematically though the three phases – Focus – (Leap & Orient) – What’s next. If there is one thing that I want you to remember and appy from this talk, it is FLOW. FLOW provides you a structured approach to grow your idea into innovation.

1.7 Key Takeaways

Friends, I would boldly say that Innovation is no rocket science. We can all innovate.
·        Explore your crazy side – for every 8 logical ideas that you pursue, try at least 2 crazy ideas.
·        To give a break to your logical brain and consciously give the control to your creative brain - Challenge the assumptions. Ask What If.
·        Don’t rush to convergence without spending sufficient time thinking divergently.
·        Recognize the constraints early and use this knowledge to shape the idea in the right direction.
·        Be agile and respond to changing technology and changing market needs – don’t get stuck to your idea (even if it works well).

Have lot of fun.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Advanced Energy Storage – Flow Batteries

Innovative energy storage technology for Power Generation Hybrid Systems
can reduce fuel consumption, carbon footprint and total cost of operation up to 50%
-key product differentiators for the fast growing remote telecom towers segment.

Disruptive Technology - Hybrid power generation systems, for the fast growing remote telecom towers segment, will witness disruptive innovations caused by integration with energy storage and renewables by 2020. We have an opportunity to differentiate our product by adopting a superior energy storage technology – Zinc Bromine Flow Battery (pioneered by the Sandia National Labs). Flow batteries are superior to Li-ion and other next-generation storage technologies for long-duration applications. The falling costs of these batteries is expected to carve out a 360 MWh market in 2020, worth $190 million - Zinc bromine (ZnBr) is predicted to become the most competitive flow battery at $391/kWh.

Business case - Secondary market research indicates that, the global telecom industry will deploy by 2020 approximately 390,000 telecom towers that are off-grid and 790,000 that are in bad-grid locations. This is an increase of 22% and 13%, respectively, from today. If these towers continue to use diesel-powered generators:
·         Diesel consumption for telecom towers will increase by 13-15% from today’s levels, to over 150 million barrels per year. The resulting annual cost of diesel will be over US$ 19 billion in 2020, or US$ 5 per mobile-phone user per year.
·         About 45 million tons of CO2 per year will be released, which is more than 5 million tons higher than current levels.
Conversion to more efficient, greener alternative tower power solutions, which include diesel generator-advanced battery and renewable energy hybrid systems, could save the industry US$ 13-14 billion annually. Adoption of these green technologies at scale also has the potential to generate approximately 40 million tons and US$ 100-500 million annually in carbon savings.

Customer benefit - Pairing an energy storage technology and a smart control system with a high efficiency diesel generator produces a wide range of advantages compared to a diesel-only generator – (a) The engine does not have to be running the entire time and when the engine is running, it is at its most efficient rpm, which extends engine life (b) Fuel consumption, TCO and carbon footprint can reduce up to 50% (c) Engine noise is greatly reduced.

Idea in brief - Deploying a hybrid power system that integrates a variable speed diesel DC generator with a superior energy storage system – a Zn Br flow battery - is an extremely energy efficient alternative to using an AC generator operating 24/7, since the generator simultaneously charges the battery and powers the site load. When the battery is fully charged the generator shuts down and the battery takes over as the primary source of power. The generator runtime is reduced to typically four hours per day, with major savings in fuel consumption – usually up to 50% compared with a standard generator. It also reduces CO2 emissions while increasing refuelling and service intervals. A complete hybrid system of this type can be packaged in a compact and light ‘energy container’ to offer a turnkey solution that is quick and easy to install in remote locations.

We will explore the use of flow batteries for automotive application in our next blog :

Automotive - GE built a flow battery that enhance the range of electric vehicles to 240 miles -

India - A team of materials scientists, physicists & chemists at Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CSIR Lab, Karaikudi) lead by Dr Vijayamohanan Pillai has been actively working on Zn - Br redox systems for flow batteries - notable inventions from this group include development of carbon - based electrodes.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Future of Urban Mobility - Key Challenges

This is the first in a series of blog posts on the future of Urban Mobility.
Our ability to ensure clean and convenient mobility in our cities is key to the sustainable growth of our economy. Volatile fuel prices, rising levels of emissions and traffic congestions are the key challenges that we face in most Indian cities today. 
We need the best of our young minds to look at emerging technologies, like smart and connected vehicles, to overcome these challenges. I expect that urban mobility, both personal and commercial, will be shaped by disruptive technologies such as:
the move to on-demand mobility,
the impact of autonomous vehicles and
the growth of electric vehicles
There are three big challenges
Challenge # 1 - How to achieve Zero Vehicular Emission ?

I was in New Delhi during December 2015 for a Conference and the visibility was very poor due to smog even in the middle of the day.

Challenge # 2 - How to achieve Zero Accidents ?

Millions of lives are lost every year due to accidents that can well be avoided  by using connected technology. Millions more are immobilized or severely shocked due to the loss of near and dear ones.

Challenge # 3 - How to achieve Zero Traffic Congestion ?

I lived in Bangalore for the last few year where you can see such traffic jams in every other road. A city like Bangalore cannot sustain its current growth rate unless they figure out a way to remove such traffic congestions and ensure a smooth flow of traffice. I have spent many hours in such traffic jams and I have seen ambulances or fire brigade engines stranded in such situations.
Achieving Zero Emission with Electric Vehicles
Let us look at the Challenge # 1 of reducing vehicular emission to zero, electric vehicles are promising solutions. But if we use electricity derived from fossil fuels too power these electric cars, then we are achieving our objective. Hence we need to define and track emissions across the entire process "Well-to-Wheel"
A zero-emissions vehicle does not emit greenhouse gases from the on board source of power at the point of operation, but a well-to-wheel assessment takes into account the carbon dioxide and other emissions produced during electricity generation, and therefore, the extent of the real benefit depends on the fuel and technology used for electricity generation. From the perspective of a full life cycle analysis, the electricity used to recharge the batteries must be generated from renewable or clean sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, or nuclear power for ZEVs to have almost none or zero well-to-wheel emissions. 
Renewable energy sources like solar & wind need to be used to charge the electric vehicles. The cost per watt of solar photovoltaic has reduced by 85 % during 2000 - 2016. The share of solar & wind in global electricity production is expected to rise to 16 %.
In fact, Scientific American published (Nov 2009) a plan to power 100% of the planet with Renewables - authored by #MarkJacobson (Stanford University) and #MarkDelucci (University of California, Davis):
  • The authors’ plan calls for 3.8 million large wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants, and numerous geothermal, tidal and rooftop photovoltaic installations worldwide. 
  • The cost of generating and transmitting power would be less than the projected cost per kilowatt-hour for fossil fuel and nuclear power. 
  • Shortages of a few specialty materials, along with lack of political will, loom as the greatest obstacles.

Now we are talking about electric cars powered by solar photovoltaic - is this a feasible idea ? Elon Musk has looked at this aspect in detail and provides a convincing argument:

Q: How many solar panels do I need to power my Tesla Roadster? 
A: The Tesla Roadster consumes about 200 watt-hours per mile. Suppose you drove 35 miles per day on average (12,775 miles per year). You would need to generate 2.6 MWh/year. By Elon’s math, monocrystalline solar panels generate about 263 kWh/m2/year in the USA. So you would need about 9.7 square meters of solar panels (a square about 10 feet on a side) to completely offset the energy consumed by your Tesla Roadster. Obviously, you can’t fit these on the roof of your car. But you can hire a company like Solar City to install them on your house – where the panels are mounted at the right angle, and are in the shade as little as possible.
Here is a back-of-the-envelop calculation from #ElonMusk
The below results in a payback period of roughly 2 and a half years. The NREL study similarly calculates the payback period for polycrystalline panels to be 3-5 years, and amorphous silicon panels to be 0.5-2 years. Given that most modules have a 25 year warranty and an expected useful life in excess of 30 years, this indicates about a ten to one advantage for energy generated versus consumed.
Taking the monocrystalline silicon example:
Solar incidence (US):1825 kWh/m2/year
Module efficiency:18% (Sunpower)
Energy lost in system:20% (Due to inverter, wires, cell temperature, etc.)
Total energy produced:
263 kWh/m2/year
Energy to create module:600 kWh/m2 (National Renewable Energy Lab.)
… to build aluminum frame:80 kWh/m2 (from Alsema et al)
Total energy used:
680 kWh/m2

Key Takeaway:
Thus an easy way to achieve zero emission from vehicles is to go for electric vehicles that are powered by solar photovoltaics. 
Key Concern - Energy Storage beyond Lithium :
As all renewable sources are intermittent by their very nature, we need energy storage mechanisms in place to ensure continuous supply of power. The current energy storage technology based on lithium ion batteries has many shortcomings and we need to think beyond lithium and explore alternative technologies for future use. But that is a long story and we will save this topic for the next blog post.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What Einstein proved, Arthur Clarke formulated and Vinod Khosla reminded - this is important for the success of your Innovation initiative

The real tragedy occurs each time a creative mind turns away from a challenge because enough experts tell them it’s unsolvable - Vinod Khosla, Black Swans of Energy Transformation

#Vinod Khosla has written an insightful essay on the Black Swans of energy transformation where he emphaises the importance of placing our bets on the less probable, high risk technologies that if they succeed can lead to a breakthrough improvement. Khosla makes an important point about why we should not get discouraged by what experts say if we want to make any progress with our innovation idea.

Image result for lord kelvin"The number of times prominent experts have claimed that there is no possible innovation left in a market, an area or even all of science, is hard to count.

In 1900 Lord Kelvin, having just retired as president of the Royal Society, was reported to have said, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement."

Image result for einstein patent clerk Meanwhile they had started to shut down patent offices all over Europe. As John D. Barrow describes in his book, New Theories of Everything, “Near the end of the last century, many also felt the work of science to be all but done. The Prussian patent office was closed down in the belief that there were no more inventions to be made.

But some work carried out by a junior at another patent office in Berne changed all that and opened up all the vistas of twentieth-century physics.”

To understand the four ground-breaking papers that #Einstein published in 1905, see the TED video - (a brilliant explanation).

In fact, Arthur Clarke has formulated this fact in the form of three laws - Arthur Clarke's Three Laws

Clarke's first law
When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
Clarke's second law
The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
Clarke's third law
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

If you have been inviting experts for your brainstorming sessions so far, then you may want to reconsider that. If you want to be successful in innovation, don't aim to become an expert, don't listen to experts - always think like a beginner.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The story behind the invention of the Stethoscope

Rene Laennec’s 235th Birthday

René Laennec - How he invented the Stethoscope !

In 1816, shyness led Laennec to invent the stethoscope. He was examining a young woman complaining of heart problems. At that time, doctors generally listened to patients' heartbeats by resting an ear against the patient's chest, but the conservative Laennec thought this improper under the circumstances, especially as she was overweight. He rolled a piece of paper into a tube and pressed it to her chest, allowing him to hear the sounds of her heart. Some believe he was inspired by the flute, which he used to play.