Getting Combinatorial (3/3)

Orchestrating - many instruments in the air

We continue our conversation with Christy Davis and Ravi Varanasi on combinatorial innovation. Check out their first and second part of the interview.

Challenges for the futureWhat are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the respective sectors around applying combinatorial innovation, bringing these unlikely partnerships together? It isn’t easy to bring multi-sector partnerships together, but what are some of the challenges and how can somebody reading this article learn from the solutions that you found?

Ravi: Thanks for asking that question, and that is where I really want to recognize and applaud what Asia P3 Hub is doing. Most of us in our own organizational roles, attend seminars, conferences, meetings, industry trade associations, forum talks. Everybody from the same industry comes together, usually as competitors, not as complementors.Cog in a wheel

I’m quoting an example of the Silk Road Ensemble – player started by the famous cellist – Yo Yo Ma who is brilliant at playing the Cello. Imagine an orchestra where there is a room full of brilliant cellists playing their own tunes, each one is brilliant in their own capacity, yet you will have a cacophony of brilliance.String orchestra playing together

To Christy’s point, if you bring people with diverse backgrounds, and quoting back to the Silk Road Ensemble if you can bring musicians to play different instruments, you will have a beautiful orchestra. And that is exactly what is lacking in today’s world which the Asia P3 Hub is trying to bridge that gap bringing diverse stakeholders together.Work together

As Christy said earlier, Kohler is good at design, we are very good at human-centered design. Some others can be brilliant at economic-centered design, and few other companies can be technology-centered. So, when all these people come together, the solution becomes life-centered and not just a one-sided effort. And that is the challenge – identifying lead people, bringing them together is a challenge.Bring together

Like I said, having to travel to Wisconsin, not everybody gets to do it. Somebody in India who has not gone to Wisconsin might be having a brilliant idea to solve a problem, but to him/her, the resources are all in Wisconsin. So, the need is for all the components to be made accessible if not available around the world, which in itself is a huge challenge, and I’m really glad that Asia P3 Hub has thought of addressing that very issue.

Baby footprint in the sandIt has started taking baby steps with the concept and I’m sure it will start running pretty soon to win the race of combinatorial innovation to help social inclusion and further the cause of ecological economics.

Christy: That’s so nice. Ravi, if I didn’t like you before, I really like you now because I’m a Yo Yo Ma fanatic. I love Yo Yo Ma and one of my favorite quotes of his is “Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you are passionate about something, then you are more willing to take risks.”Taking a risk

And so, it is as we talk about coming together in more complementary ways. We have people in the room that want to be there, that are passionate about tackling whatever it is that’s on the table. Everyone is not only willing to put their heart and soul into it and contribute assets and resources, but they are also willing to step out in faith and hold hands with everybody else and take risks. I’m thrilled at the opportunities that I know are before us.Future opportunities

We’ve got a foundation in place now to build some momentum and start to produce a measurable impact. I think one of the challenges for me is simply pace and time, the expectations: many say “yes, we know that there’ll be relationships, and it takes time. And from relationships you build, there’ll be partnerships which also take time. And then you figure out what you’re going to do together, it takes time. And then you pilot something, and everything takes time.”Old alarm clock

At the same time, there is pressure to see results – how is it going? How many partnerships have you brokered? What have they done? What’s the impact? How do we build in speed without losing quality, focus and purpose? Pacing ourselves is a challenge. We probably want to move faster than our various organizations together are able to do.Challenge

Another challenge is managing expectations. Expectations are high. Multi-sector partnerships are in “vogue” and gaining traction – a good thing. The SDGs highlight this – how are we going to tackle the sustainable development goals together? There is even an SDG for this – SDG 17, a stronger commitment to partnership and cooperation. There’s an expectation and desire to see these partnerships brokered and successfully producing desired results.Children playing with water

Those are high expectations, when you actually get to work you’ll find that it’s the nitty-gritty and getting into the trenches which is a hard slog in many ways. But people want change, people are passionate about it, and so I think as long as we ensure that we invest the time, energy and resources needed in a responsible way and seek to find low hanging fruit and quicker wins that then fuel more investment, interest, or commitment, we’ll see that we’re able to scale.Hour glass

Ravi: If there are all the components in the room and we are all open to failing fast, learning and moving on, I think that would be a great attitude to bring to the table rather than trying to perfect a partnership and that’s taking time and getting people frustrated, losing patience and ultimately losing interest.

So failing fast by implementing something quicker and learning from that is far more exciting than trying to get to a perfect solution and then trying to implement.Expectations for the future

Christy: I agree completely. I’ve been learning these new terms – fail fast, fail forward, learn quickly, pick yourself back up, iterate the improvements and keep moving. Totally agree!

Thank you, both Christy and Ravi for this interesting conversation about combinatorial innovation and the new Asia P3 Hub. We are looking forward to hearing a lot more from both of you in the near future.

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