Watch carefully, then, the advance of some new products coming out of India. In the last few weeks Indian companies have announced the Nano car, which will cost less than $3000, and new cell phones that will cost less than $30. In the article about the phone, the author notes that the phone "has jettisoned all non-essential features - such as a screen". Well, when you don't have landline service and the thought of having any telecommunications service at all is a pipe dream, receiving a cell phone that works but lacks a screen is probably the least of your worries. While many of us in the States and Western Europe pine away for the latest touch screen technology integrated with MP3 capabilities for our phones, billions of people don't have any reliable telecommunications at all. This Indian firm is opening up telecommunications to a version of the "long tail" - except this is a vast but underserved mass market that won't miss the screen.
This thinking is virtually never reflected in the West. When we think of innovating, we are constantly asking - What can we add? not, What's best for the customer. So, inevitably, we end up with bloated products that have lots of features and gizmos that are supposed to be interesting and helpful but are just difficult to understand and use. If you use Vista, do you think this bloated piece of software is really innovative? Why do I need to relearn to use the software applications I've used for years. But I digress.
Frequently we should be asking ourselves as we innovate what we can REMOVE from a product - what features are unnecessary, or, what features or services if removed could open up an entirely new market or customer segment. Probably the only people who do this well are industrial designers, who are seeking the cleanest, sleekest look and customer experience. For the rest of us, innovation too often means larding up the product with features people say they want, but don't necessarily demand.
Sure, one way to look at the advance of the inexpensive Indian car or cell phone is to say that they've just found ways to cut costs and bring products to market that the Indian economy can afford. Think about this - that same customer profile exists in India, China, much of Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. The potential customer base is huge. Will we see Nokia and Motorola quickly copy suit to bring forward new, inexpensive phones to attack a dramatically underserved market? If the Indian firms learn innovative skills though reduction, what new products or services could they create or existing markets could they disrupt?