Innovation in the Age of No-code
Napoleon Bonaparte is the man usually credited with the phrase “An army marches on its stomach.” He was right because the range of military operations at the beginning of the nineteenth century mostly depended on availability of food supplies. Apparently a man who put his money where his mouth was, Napoleon offered a prize of 12,000 francs to anybody who would invent a technique for preserving food. By doing that, he had officially kicked off the research into canned food and started an era of continuous improvements in food preservation, packaging and transportation technology. The effort eventually paid off by making possible even overseas military operations that mobilized millions of soldiers in the two World Wars. Tin and food had been available for centuries. Figuring out a way to use the former to preserve the latter—that was innovation.
Innovation is one of those terms whose definition changes according to the context, and thus might be tricky to put your finger on. It may refer to processes that bring about a novelty or to products or services that are the outcomes of these processes. For these products, services or processes to be seen as innovations, they should capture or redistribute value. Anthony W. Ulwick, in his book Jobs to Be Done, defines the goal of innovation as devising “solutions that address unmet customer needs” (Ulwick, 2018, p.51).
In the past, innovation was considered a result of a eureka moment where a gifted person, as if guided by divine inspiration, would come up with a bright idea. This approach viewed innovation as a game of chance that was not repeatable at all (Ulwick, 2018, p.51). This last point spurred attempts throughout the twentieth century aiming to place innovation on a more scientific footing.
We have previously seen how the Japanese school of thought handled this issue and came up with some of the most ingenious ideas in scientific management. The Americans, too, produced their fair share of thinkers and concepts in this field. Engineers like W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran and concepts like Six Sigma and Total Quality Management helped save innovation from the grips of happenstance and the heroics of a few insanely talented people. It was finally conquered, having been made predictable, continuous and sustainable through the use of particular techniques. Today innovation arises from well-designed processes in an incremental fashion.
Then, there is the issue of building a sustainable competitive edge on innovation. The late American scholar Clayton Christensen, in his book Competing against Luck, argued that processes specifically designed to satisfy unmet customer needs would do the job (Christensen et al., 2016, pp.139-40). Processes have human and social components and this renders them virtually theftproof, serving as a source of competitive advantage. But for this to happen, innovation should become part of a shared culture and mindset first.
Innovation is a costly endeavor. It takes quite a lot of time and money to bring a new product to the market. Too long of a development phase could mean losing the market to early movers. Too high of a production cost could scuttle the project from the start. Frost & Sullivan argues that only 1 in every 100 new products cover their development costs. This stat alone is enough to rule out the conventional waterfall project management practices. Today more than ever, companies have to remain agile, nimble on their feet rather than commit to a project whether it’s sink or swim. The idea is to act fast, form a hypothesis as quickly as possible, build a prototype to test the hypothesis and modify it in case it does not hold, which is highly likely. Expediting failure rather than postponing it, learning from failure and pivoting as necessary is what drives innovation. This gradual approach makes much more sense than going all in on a risky project and investing months and significant sums of money.
For tech startups, there is no-code technology, thankfully, which negates the risk of investing in a project that might potentially turn out to be fruitless. No-code platforms such as Code2 make it easier for tech entrepreneurs to test their business ideas without having to hire developers, let alone make even bigger investments in staff or equipment. Once it is safe to say that there is a business case for a particular idea, it is easy to launch and scale up in sync as the volume of business picks up. Eliminating the need for technical co-founders and making it possible to develop proofs of concept on the cheap—no-code platforms are removing one by one the entry barriers for tech entrepreneurs.