Disruptive Innovation--One Pair of Glasses at a Time

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Reprinted from Chris Mittelstaedt’s column  Eureka  on  Inc.com

Want to shake up an entire industry? Use this story as inspiration.

Where do you look for disruptive change opportunities in your business? Have you looked at your supply chain lately? I know. Hardly seems like the stuff of innovation. But it is.

Joey P. was one of the cooler kids on the block. He had a rock garden in his back yard with a working pond and his ride of choice was a yellow Raleigh’s Chopper—a 5 speed with a stick shift in the middle that brought him closer to Evil Knievel than any of us Schwinn riders. The other thing that made Joey cool was that he was the first to get a pair of glasses that turned dark in the sunlight. All of us on the bus were amazed. It meant that Joey and his transforming eyewear had just challenged and quietly changed a central school rule—no wearing sunglasses in class.

Today, Dr. Joshua Silver, an atomic physicist at Oxford is one-upping Joey P. by breaking a modern eyewear taboo and bringing clear sight to those who have lacked it until now. Dr. Silver  is the inventor of self-adjusting eyeglasses. The design is simple and brilliant—two lenses are separated by a small amount of silicone gel that can be adjusted with a syringe in order to correct the wearer’s sight based upon their need.

While the invention is brilliant on it’s own, to me the intention is even more inspired.   Think about this for a moment: The supply chain to get a pair of glasses centers on the optometrist. The patient must go through the lengthy process of an office visit, exam, prescription, lens cutting, fitting, delivery, reevaluation, new prescription, new lens cutting, new fitting and so on as your eyes change over time. If you live in an area where this infrastructure is already established and have an income high enough to support it, the process of getting glasses works fine.   But for those who don’t have the income, or live in areas where there is a lack of trained personnel, this care goes wanting.

With one small pair of glasses, Dr. Silver has removed the barriers that keep many from accessing corrective eye wear and has quietly changed a central rule of a supply chain.

In any business, finding a supply chain inefficiency and coming up with a solution is problem-solving gold. Whether you are trying to put more power in consumers’ hands to customize their own experiences or providing access to information, products, or services at an earlier and less costly stage, looking at problems from a supply chain perspective can be a tremendously effective tool in developing new ideas. Dr. Silver’s glasses are a wonderful reminder of this supply chain approach that all entrepreneurs should try to keep in focus.

You can see Dr. Silver’s TED talk about his glasses on YouTube.


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