Ideas Worth Scaling

BIF founder and chief catalyst Saul Kaplan doesn’t mince words when it comes to underscoring the difference between creating new ideas and creating new value.  In differentiating innovation from ideas and invention, says Kaplan, “it’s not an innovation until it delivers value.”

The distinction doesn’t stop there. The kind of problems that keep Kaplan awake at night—things like health care, education and energy—also require innovations that scale, so that they deliver significant value to a meaningful percentage of the people who need it.

“Spreading of ideas is critical, but the end goal is solving a problem or creating a new opportunity.  The real question is, can an idea translate into action and can it scale,” says Kaplan. “I think a lot about how to enable R&D at the business model and systems level, where we have the best chance of launching ideas that convert to scalable, transformative innovations.”

Kaplan sees the issue of systems change and scalability as a surmountable challenge, but only if we change the way we approach solving the big problems of our day.  Important ideas worth scaling require systems-level innovation and not “tweaks” or incremental fixes to existing systems.  Like steering an ocean liner, complex systems have a lot of momentum and are difficult to maneuver and change. So how do you introduce needed change into big social systems at a scale, and on a timeline, that delivers the value we all know is possible?

Experimentation, says Kaplan, is the key. “Real world experimentation is imperative to solve the big social issues of our day,” says Kaplan.  “We need R&D platforms that enable systems-level experimentation, where disruptive ideas can be tested in real-world conditions while managing the risk associated with scaling new system approaches.  Only by creating safe and manageable real world test environments can we combine and recombine capabilities across sectors, industries, and disciplines un-constrained by current systems.”

An aversion to trying new system approaches, especially those that require collaboration across silos, disciplines, and sectors, is why most good ideas never make it off of the white board into action, and even fewer scale to deliver value to a meaningful percentage of those who can benefit, says Kaplan.  “We have the technology and platforms to scale new systems that deliver customized solutions to the individual but we are frozen in industrial era systems that only know how to deliver the same solution to the masses.  We see this same pattern in health care, education, and energy.  These are well-intentioned systems with outmoded business models and no capacity to experiment.”

This realization was the impetus for Kaplan’s launch of the Business Innovation Factory.  With BIF, Kaplan sought to build a place where partners from across the public and private sectors focus on solving social system challenges by designing and testing new system solutions in a real-world environment.  Kaplan began by creating a community of innovators that is passionate about re-thinking how value is delivered across the public and private sectors and equally committed to leveraging the full power of experimentation.

Today, BIF focuses each year on a portfolio of projects in the BIF Experience Labs to help organizations experiment and collaborate across traditional boundaries to explore new business models and systems for delivering value.

“In the BIF Experience Labs, we are singularly focused on redesigning how value is delivered through R&D and experimentation that puts the focus on the end user, whether that end user is a student, patient, or citizen,” says Kaplan. “BIF’s open innovation platform is enabling ideas worth scaling to deliver value to the people who need it most.”

Not satisfied with the early success of BIF’s Elder Experience and Student Experience Labs, Kaplan knows there is still a long way to go. “BIF Research Advisor, Roger Martin, says that the hallmark of innovators is that ‘they have a point of view to share but know they are missing something.’   We believe BIF is on to something with its passion for system level innovation.  We also know that we are still missing many ‘somethings’ to achieve our goal of catalyzing system change in health care, education and energy.  It feels like an exciting period is unfolding and I’m proud to be a part of it.”