Recently, I was watching the new ABC News broadcast called “Be The Change: Save A Life.” And in this one episode, a group of Stanford University students solved a critical life and death problem afflicting the world in which 4 million premature and malnourished babies die every year due to hypothermia and another 16 million that survive suffer life-long illness such as diabetes and heart disease because their internal organs do not form right.
The challenge in the developing world is access to incubators, which typically cost $20,000 and are not available in rural areas. In turn, some Stanford students formed a team and developed the Embrace infant warmer, a low-cost, local solution. It is a $25 waterproof baby sleeping bag with a pouch for a reheatable wax-like substance that is boiled in water and maintains its temperature for 4 to 6 hours at a time. It is hoped that this product will save 1 million babies within the first five years in India alone!
As I reflected on this amazing feat of technology, I marveled at how this group of young adults was able to overcome such a big world problem and solve it so simply. And while I understand that they focused on the end-users and the root cause of the problems, it is still a remarkable story.
After listening to the team members describe their project and approach, I believe there are three critical factors that show through and that can be the tipping point in not only their, but also our technology projects’ success. These three factors, which I call the Triple I Factors are as follows:
Idealism—the students had a shared idealism for a better world. Seeing people’s pain and suffering drove their vision. And in turn, they committed themselves to finding a cure for it. Embrace is now a non-profit organization seeking to save lives versus just making a profit.
Imagination—the product team was able to imagine an unconventional alternative to the status quo. They were able to project a vision for a low cost and mobile infant warmer into concrete solutions that were user-centric for the people in need.
Innovation—the ultimate product design was truly innovative. It marries a high technology phase-change wax substance for maintaining body temperature with a simple baby sleeping bag. Moreover, the innovation is not just in the materials of the product, but in the usability, so for example, this product requires no electricity, something that is not always available in rural India.
While, there are certainly many factors that go into successful technology product launches, including strong leadership, sound project management, and the technical competence of the team, I think that the Triple I factors—idealism, imagination, and innovation—albeit soft factors are ones that should not be underestimated in their ability to propel meaningful technology solutions.
As IT leaders, we need to create a healthy balance and diverse competencies in the organization between the hard factors and the soft factors, so that we can tackle everything from children dying from malnutrition and hypothermia to cures for cancer, and of course, ongoing IT breakthroughs in knowledge management, social engineering, and human productivity await.