Paul Lachine

Fixing the Innovation Supply Chain

Just as individual innovators must challenge conventional wisdom, so companies must approach innovation in a new way – one that resembles the logic behind manufacturing supply chains. But innovation supply chains – where they exist – tend to be characterized by inefficiency, ambiguity, and self-defeating competition.

CAMBRIDGE – As a graduate student at MIT, I had the opportunity to work with Professors Robert Langer and Ram Sasisekharan in an environment rife with innovative thinking. We asked what could be possible, and were driven to pursue revolutionary technologies that were widely considered impossible. This experience instilled in me a simple but powerful credo: think big.

Innovation is difficult. If one is willing to traverse the boundary of the unknown, one should pursue the course that promises the greatest potential impact. In exploring a wide range of subjects – energy, agriculture, medicine, and more – one approach has, in my experience, emerged as the most effective: begin with the end in mind. By identifying the problems and envisioning the preferred solution, one can define the set of constraints into which technological innovation fits, and establish a clear, albeit often difficult, path to its realization.

A fundamental requirement of this approach is an open mind, unconstrained by the subject’s idiosyncratic dogma. Those who are immersed in a field have an established view of what is possible, based on some combination of previous successes, citation bias, current limits of knowledge, and truth – and it is often difficult to distinguish these sources. But the newcomer asking the most basic questions begins to notice logical inconsistencies, from which the real constraints on solutions and technological limits arise.

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