Response to “How to Think about Consumer Innovation in Africa”

Encouragement from my Nigerian tweeps to go ahead and write a rebuttal to a recent article in TechCabal shared on Twitter yesterday has led to this post. Given that my doctoral dissertation is based on my past decade of work in innovation & design planning for the vast majority of the population that comprises the sub Saharan consumer market – those who are informally employed or economically active in the informal economy – it made sense to do some background research on the late Clayton Christensen’s work with a more critical eye.

I have based my framing of 5 case studies of disruptive innovations from emerging markets on Christensen’s work, and his identification of the less profitable fringes as the origins of most market disruptions has been robust over the years. However, as a long time practitioner of the Institute of Design-IIT Chicago’s Innovation Planning approach, best popularized by the Doblin Group across the street, I have long held reservations about his “jobs to be done” approach to deconstructing complex problem spaces as innovation opportunities for products and services.

Here, in TechCabal, a Nigerian technology blog, the article “How to Think about Consumer Innovation in Africa” introduces the Christensen approach through the expertise of one of his Nigerian proteges. The focus is technological innovation. And, Nigeria’s Yaba Valley is considered a strong contender for the location of West Africa’s “innovation Valley”. Every year, a Nigerian startup or two joins the Y Combinator cohort in San Francisco.

I have concerns with the viability and desirability of any proposed innovation that is contextualized outside of the concept of “prepaid” mobile services business model. The fractionalization of voice & data services has indeed been pioneered by the likes of Econet’s Masiyiwa, and its called “prepaid” – why then the forced usage of “sachetization” or “pelletization” for another of Masiyiwa’s businesses? A robust innovation has been launched in payment plans by Kwese TV that is recognizable as related to various telco bundle offers in the prepaid realm. By refusing to acknowledge the vast majority of the Nigerian consumer base that prefers prepaid business models, and calling it sachetization, one fears that the author of the article is unable to focus on the target segment for the proposed factsheet on innovation for the African consumer. Sachetization is a word I made up. And search engines will be able to offer you the evidence.

Now, lets consider the Christensen “jobs to be done” approach introduced later in the article. After much thought, I’ll just share this snippet here and leave the discerning reader to evaluate whether it represents either Christensen’s work or does justice to the entire discipline of human centered design?

 

NB: The illustration for a multidisciplinary approach to innovation for African consumer market is from this introductory notes to its use

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