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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Overcoming Want and Waste

In the last couple of months, two long awaited BOP innovations were unveiled: the One Laptop Per Child ($100) computer and the Tata Nano ($2,500) car. Both these innovations aimed at providing access to those who previously could not afford a laptop or a car.

While much of the innovation in our world is focused on pushing the forward edge in terms of features and functionality, the OLPC and the Tata Nano focused on cost cutting as the frontier for innovation. Crossing this frontier offers access to millions new consumers. The OLPC and Nano price targets were widely labeled as unrealistic at the outset but as they drew close to launch, they resulted in a bevy of copycat offerings from mainstream producers in the computer and automobile fields. What the OLPC and Nano proved is that the true barrier to be crossed is not technical viability but that of vision and will.

As more products cross the price-innovation threshold, a worry is about the significant environmental problems that can be expected to ensue with greater consumption. Finding a way to produce green (yet affordable) products is a frontier that we must begin to tackle. Here too the great, big barrier is not about feasibility but that of vision and will. Will we see creative leaders like Negroponte and Tata embark on these challenges soon? There’s not a moment to waste.

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