Innovation: Ideas From Above

I participated in a Lean Startup class at Harvard earlier this year. It was eye opening to say the least.   The class got down to the business of innovation quickly. We learned how to manage a full cycle of lean activities by ‘doing’. Less talking more doing! First we defined some problems worthy of solving, then we voted on the best problems to solve. From there we came up with as many innovative solutions as possible. We defined our potential business models and pricing schemes. Up against tight timeframes, we thought we had developed some worthy innovations during this process.

Our main mission was to make sure we understood the importance of Customer Development at the ‘street level’. We rushed into the neighborhoods of Cambridge and questioned passers-by to find out if they indeed, had the problem we described and if our solution would be something they would buy.

I joined the “Fall leaves are a big problem” team. Leaves falling off of trees confront consumers and businesses alike. How to remove the onslaught of fall leaves on your property while saving time and money. Turns out getting leaves off of the lawn is a problem people want to solve.There are many lawn care services like King Green. Lawn care in the US is a $40B industry! There are 26 Million leaf blowers in the US alone.

We initially thought of a solution that would be an invisible netting placed across the lawn but a net would cause all kinds of issues with mowing the lawn. Then we considered trapping them in the trees before they hit the ground. But after hours of idea generation we missed a simple and elegant solution coming in from the air: Drones.

Enter the Leaf Drone! Wish I would have thought of that.

We never considered a solution to be carried out by air. Better yet, as a neighborhood service.


When pressured to come up with innovative solutions to real problems, sometimes it takes shifted thinking to creatively solve the problem. We were very ‘earth-bound’ and somewhat ‘usual’ in our thinking about leaves. The ground is where we’ve been solving the problem for so long, it never occurred to us to approach from above.

Before drone technology an approach from above would have been unthinkable (or too costly to build). Advances in technology allow us to solve problems in completely new ways. The sky’s the limit.  Innovation requires creative thinking that keeps working on the problem until it is solved uniquely and cost effectively.

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