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How to innovate (and how not to), part 5: Become the centre of an ecosystem

Where does innovation come from? And which method works best? Jihee Junn continues her look at the many and varied approaches to innovation in the fifth part of a series.

When Kode Biotech won big at last year's NZ Innovation Awards, CEO Steve Henry discussed a common misconception people have about innovation. “Most people think innovation is invention, but they don’t understand that innovation is the conversion of invention into something useful.”

That sentiment is particularly true when it comes to Kode’s technology. Notably, it’s used as a form of anti-cancer treatment, but its applications reach far beyond this. It can modify anything from cells, bacteria and viruses, to plastics, metals, and glass. Kode’s nano-technology is actually a platform that others can innovate with. The anti-cancer treatment, which was the application that caught the attention of the evaluators, was developed by UK pharmaceutical company Agalimmune using Kode’s core technology. Similarly, other companies are experimenting with the help of Kode, finding uses in surgical bandages, drug delivery, modifying viruses and embryos, and anti-counterfeiting labelling, most of which were innovations Kode Biotech never conceived of.

"Kode Technology is a huge platform," says Henry. "It's way, way too big for us to be able to chase all those opportunities ourselves. What we decided very early on is the best way is to collaborate, and use all the other people to actually take out products, or take our ideas through to products. We control the intellectual property, and we enable others to use it and develop new generations of products that they will then take to market. "We've always said our best ideas will come from other people."

Platform thinking is different from just creating new things—it uncovers new sources of supply, redefines ideas and finds new ways of solving problems. Think Airbnb and accommodation, Amazon and retailers, Apple and apps, and Twitter and news. All these platforms serve as a springboard for others to innovate on. Anna Curzon, managing director of Xero, recently spoke about the proliferation of this type of innovation, stating that with Xero, “we have over 500 add-ons and we create these great experiences. But we know that our business was never going to be about the best eCommerce platform or point of sale platform. It's about us being the business platform.”

Idealog’s official rating: 7 / 10 – High degree of difficulty to create (and then own) an ecosystem, but vast rewards await.

Method 1: Wait for the eureka moment

Method 2: Follow the word of God

Method 3: Try, try and try again

Method 4; Fail fast, act small, embrace big