Naivety: Do you have this innovators’ superpower?

The key to unlocking the true power of disruption lies in recognising that the most transformative ideas often come from those who see the world a little differently.

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I fondly remember an opportunity in telecommunications where a local telco was struggling with the implementation of service and risked going over budget and being out of allocated time. Their partner in the project was a large multinational organisation that had deployed similar solutions for a handful of other peers in different markets.

By all measures, ambition, and logic, this should have been a walk in the park, with world-class infrastructure, fantastic pedigree in talent, and subscribed standards. What remained unaccounted for was the deep fragmentation in devices on the network at the time, meaning that suddenly the standard would not deliver. Enter naivety.

When we think about the concept of disruption, we are inclined to imagine that it requires one to be well-versed in an industry, sector, product, service, or process. Shouldn't the best solutions come from those who understand the intricacies of the problem they are solving?

Absolutely! But sometimes, the biggest roadblock to innovation is not a lack of knowledge, but an acceptance of the status quo, better articulated as standards.

In this story, I tasked my team to think through possible solutions to the problem, with a deliberate decision made not to mention the "problematic” standard. To be clear, the issue was not in the standard itself, as it addressed the section of the market, but that its presence and prior deployment success blinded those on the project to any other options, including going back to the drawing board.

In a few weeks, across multiple sprints, the team delivered a solution that passed the test for problem fit, deployed, and scaled to great success.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, the ability to look at a problem or opportunity through virgin eyes can many times be the differentiator in creating and unlocking value.

Look at the innovations celebrated now. They may seem obvious after the fact but were most likely viewed as ludicrous at the beginning. You must question and interrogate how things have always been done, to either take a tangent and chart a new path or improve on the current one.

However, there is a caveat. Unchecked, naivety can be a recipe for disaster. While a clear-eyed view of the problem cum opportunity is essential, so is a healthy respect for the realities of the industry. Naivety can easily become a liability, potentially leading to wasted time, capital, and ultimately a failed venture.

The sweet spot lies in striking a balance. The ideal team might have a visionary outsider at the top tempered by seasoned industry veterans who can help navigate sector complexities, sidestepping critical mistakes and errors.

Ultimately, the key to unlocking the true power of disruption lies in recognising that the most transformative ideas often come from those who see the world a little differently. Naivety, combined with experience and respect for the playing field, can become the secret sauce that moves a startup from an audacious idea to an industry-changing force.

Mbugua is a Technology Venture Builder | [email protected]

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