Sometimes, true innovation can be really simple. It can be revolutionizing, improve the life of millions of people and at the same time be so low-tech that you think it was invented in the Stone Age – excuse me, Iron Age.
A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon the following headline of a news article: A Little Fish-Shaped Lump of Iron Just Won the Product Design Grand Prix at Cannes. Every year, during the International Festival of Creativity, The Cannes Lions are given to innovators and leaders in different creative categories, among them film, design, product design and many more. The headline made me curious and when I read more about it, I discovered an inspiring story that I would like to share with you.
Some background information: In Cambodia, a considerable proportion of the population is iron deficient. This preventable condition can lead to anemia, weakness, impaired cognitive ability, compromised physical development in children, and increased risk of illness. It can even lead to death. Worldwide, an estimated 3.5 billion people are affected. And medicine is often too expensive for poor families to treat this lack of nutrition.
Christopher Charles, a PhD who was examining how to fight anemia in Cambodia, had the idea to help people in Cambodia by giving them a lump of iron to use during cooking which would release low, but sufficient, levels of bioavailable iron per use: an affordable, simple method that could be applied even in the most remote villages.
Unfortunately, the Cambodian housewives were very reluctant to boiling a piece of iron together with their rice and fish.
Charles understood how important the emotional factor of an innovation can be. During an extensive research in the internet, he found out that the fish is an important symbol in the Cambodian (and overall) Asian culture that stands for good luck. He decided to give the iron the shape of a fish and suddenly, the iron fish became a huge success in the test areas.
After just nine months of using the Lucky Iron Fish every day, doctors saw a 50% decrease in the incidence of clinical iron deficiency anemia, and an increase in users’ iron levels. And people were feeling the difference. That’s why the Lucky Iron Fish has become an integral part of their lives.
A nice side effect: Lucky Iron Fish is striving to realize this vision in a socially and environmentally responsible way. That’s why the organization is committed to hiring local staff, using recycled and biodegradable materials, and supporting like-minded businesses and organizations.
So, in the age of computer systems and Internet of Things — how can a lump of iron win a creativity prize in product design?
For me, the story is amazing in several aspects and teaches us some lessons that apply to all kinds of innovations:
- Innovation is not only about technology, even nowadays. Innovation is about improving people´s lives.
- You can have the best idea, but your market won´t accept it unless consumers are convinced of the product´s benefit.
- Don’t underestimate the emotional value of a product – ever!
- Innovation is about research: searching for solutions, collecting ideas, testing them, evaluating them and picking the most promising ones.
- Innovation should be sustainable: that means, organizations should ensure that not only their products are sustainable, but that their entire value chains operate in a sustainable way.
When we talk to our clients – organizations from different industries, companies of different sizes and from all five continents – they all have more or less the same issues and needs when it comes to product development and innovation. They are looking for software that helps them simplify their idea management and R&D processes and focus on creativity, the customer and on market needs. That means for us that the software they use needs to be intuitive. It needs to support them in their creativity and help them ensure sustainability. That’s what we consider as the mission of our product lifecycle management and innovation management software.
Photo via Lucky Iron Fish