Innovation Should Not Be a Leap of Faith

Innovation Should Not Be a Leap of Faith

In Uncategorized by Roger Lewis

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The capacity for technology innovation to improve people’s lives depends first and foremost on individuals’ and communities’ willingness to use it, and the importance of the latter’s trust grows as the former promises greater transformation. A journey to earning it should be core to any development plan and every MVP.

Innovation Should Not Require A Leap Of Faith

It might seem like an obvious statement, but technology users aren’t as informed or interested in new tech as are its coders and the businesses that fund them, and this fact underlies the basic adoption challenge that any innovation needs to overcome.

People are wedded to their routines because they prefer imperfect solutions that are known and dependable over unproven alternatives that promise improvements. Every tech solution “fix” that might seem simple to an informed technologist can appear quite complex when cast against the context of users’ habits. It’s why experimentation rarely drives user adoption at scale.

The user equation is different when the promise of transformation is greater. Just consider the promise of fully autonomous cars.

With global collision deaths totaling 1.4 million annually, the potential benefits of tomorrow’s safe driving technology are great, according to a white paper by automotive tech company Veoneer. Yet, many drivers don’t even use what’s available to them today, citing their belief that those functions are unreliable, provide feedback at the wrong times or annoying.

That user equation for new tech is also impacted by the dearth of trust across institutions and industries, as noted in an annual survey from global PR firm Edelman and an uptick in distrust of the promises and pace of technology innovation.

The World Needs Transformative Technology

The challenge of feeding the planet in the face of the ravage wrought by global climate change requires innovation on a mass scale, especially in the global south. Yet, the leap of faith required to adopt new technologies and the behaviors they impact or empower — where it can arguably make the greatest difference — can be too great.

This is no truer than with smallholder farmers, most of whom live in subsistence conditions that are not very efficient, productive or sustainable. Yet, their reliance on established practices represents the dividing line between literal survival and ruin. They possess little backup to endure failure or unexpected shocks to their routines, so the incentive for adopting new tech, however promising, is overwhelmed by the risks of doing so.

At my company, we work with millions of these farmers every day, and our corporate purpose is to reimagine agribusiness so that their lives and communities (and ours) are more rewarding and sustainable. Innovative technology plays a key role in helping us realise our goals.

This is just one example of the many areas of the world that stands to greatly benefit from innovative technology, and we can apply the steps my company took to build trust with these farmers to other use cases. Let’s take a closer look at four areas to start with:

1. Context: Many Indonesian and Indian smallholder farmers lack the basics of infrastructure, whether that includes reliable roads, electricity or even fresh drinking water. This meant that any app had to start near them, in physical reality and not rely on digital platforms for awareness or accessibility. So, we focused on building our ecosystem to support the use of the technology by providing farmers with a trusted and nearby facilitator to help them. This meant recruiting micro-entrepreneurs who could serve as brand ambassadors, each canvassing farmers, providing updates and enabling their adoption.

2. Culture: Farmers regularly default to intuition and past experiences, as well as suggestions from their peers, even if those practices don’t yield success. Put another way, old habits die hard, and if you set up a comparison of “old versus new,” old will most likely win. Our solution was to use the support system we’d put in place to start sharing objective data, like market pricing, that couldn’t be questioned or positioned in conflict with prior assumptions. This then enabled them to sell their crops at real-time prices.

3. Consistency: We continued to help reduce friction for farmers on their everyday practices, such as providing access to purchasing inputs like fertiliser — and did so at an affordable cost and through an easier interface. Embracing these benefits seemed a natural extension of the sales efficacy farmers had already realised and allowed us to continue to enable the use of the app as a very material, local experience. We are there with the farmers through every step of their journey. This is our way of converting transactional relationships into deep, sustainable long-term engagement.

4. Collaboration: Only after we’d built a track record on trust by addressing the requirements of context, culture and consistency were we able to begin providing data-enabled insights on planting and other farm practices (which represent the greatest opportunity for improving farmers’ livelihoods). Had we offered this benefit upfront, we would have gotten nowhere because intuition wins over trust in the short term.

In any industry, exploring these four C’s is crucial to building trust and meaningful relationships with customers. In the startup world, these are often visualised as parts of the product design or user experience journeys. In any industry, be sure to look at this sequential approach to earning trust. Context and culture are crucial in the early phase of your journey, while consistency will eventually earn you the trust needed for long-term collaboration.

Our experience is proving that technology adoption in developing markets is possible and that it doesn’t rely on technology alone; rather, a step-by-step approach that embraces what, where, when and how of your rollout is perhaps more important than the supposed self-evident functionality you hope to provide.

That transformative technology journey starts and ends with trust. With this, you can start to build this trust with your own consumers.

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