Will your innovation scale?

Yesterday I was thrilled to discover, via LinkedIn, the announcement of a competition for business plans in the education space. So much of what I've explored in this blog could be restated as a business plan. I spent most of yesterday contemplating how I could reformulate my writings about disrupting higher ed into a scalable solution to the college dropout problem. The First Annual Milken-PennGSE Education Business Plan Competition defines it's parameters as:
Educational entrepreneurship business plans should outline the problem they address, offer a solution, and discuss scaling possibilities for bringing the proposed innovation to additional settings ...... In evaluating business plan submissions, our judges will consider the importance of the educational problem, the creativity and feasibility of the proposed solution, and the potential for widespread impact.
This morning I did a Google search of "scaling innovations" to refine my thinking about the third parameter in the competition. While I found an abundance of content that addresses the scaling of innovations in education, none of it aligned with the model in my mind about scaling. Most of it sought to get incumbents to disrupt themselves, as if educators are being asked to pull the rug out from under their own feet Thus I'm feeling compelled to spell out how I answer the question: "Will my innovation scale up into widespread use?"
  1. Innovations have a chance of scaling if they are "off the radar of the incumbents". This may occur by serving non-consumers of the market leaders, offering lower cost alternatives down market or appearing too weird to pose any obvious threat to those incumbents. Innovations are imperiled by competing directly with, stealing customers from or generating negative press for the incumbents with the resources to annihilate the innovation.
  2. Innovations may scale if they evolve into a total solution. They they offer a "package deal" that handles lots more issues besides the innovation itself. Innovations will not take off if they cannot answer the misgivings and exploratory questions of potential customers.
  3. Innovations are likely to scale if the inventors have "let go of their baby". The process of developing a viable innovation is deeply immersive and intensely engaging. The design issues demand so much attention, the inventors assume "everyone will want this". The innovation only gains widespread adoption when it serves other perspectives, functions in other contexts and solve other problems besides the inventor's original conception.
  4. Innovations improve their chances of scaling when they rebound from the dip (Godin), chasm (Moore) or hype cycle (Gartner). The second launch then appeals to pragmatists who want to use the innovation as a tool, shortcut or solution to their particular situation. They are relying on it's reputation and will spread the word if it works for them. Otherwise, innovations lose out when once the thrill is gone, the early adopters have gotten bored with it and the high churn press coverage has moved on to the next new thing.
When all four of these issues get handled by the ways of bringing the innovation to market, the odds are in its favor to scale to widespread adoption. Each neglected issue weakens the chances significantly. Failing all four concerns reduces the possibility of scaling to nil.

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