IF11: Why Innovation Requires the Death of Good Ideas

IF11: Why Innovation Requires the Death of Good Ideas

Ideate, renovate, validate and kill.

For Privahini Bradoo, these represent the four steps of the cycle of innovation, a cycle through which her own fledgling start-up is journeying -- well, at least through step #3. We'll get to that "kill" step in a moment.

Bradoo co-founded BioMine, a company aimed at recovering high-value metals and materials from electronic waste, or e-waste. In a 15-minute "One Great Idea" segment at GreenBiz Group's 2011 Innovation Forum, held through Thursday in San Francisco, Bradoo described how a newcomer like BioMine is moving through this cycle with limited resources.

1. Ideate

In very simple terms, Bradoo and her partner saw a massive problem and developed an idea for a solution. The problems involved a few key elements:

• Accelerating innovation = an acceleration of obsolete products. In 1995, for example, the average lifespan of a computer was five to seven years, Bradoo said. In 2000, it was two to three years; that lifespan is now under two years. "We call this the dark side of Moore's law," Bradoo said.

• E-waste isn't being processed properly. The EPA estimates 3 million tons of e-waste are generated in the U.S. every year, Bradoo said, but more than 80 percent is sent to landfills. Of the amount that is collected, another 80 percent is exported to the developing world where environmental laws are historically weak.

With an e-waste stream topping 40 million tons per year, Bradoo posed the question: Is this a humanitarian disaster or economic opportunity?

• The economics appear promising. A single ton of circuit boards contains the same amount of high value precious metals as 150 tons of commercial grade ore. About $70 billion of precious metals were discarded last year through e-waste. . 

2. Renovate

Some people who cling to the idea of being the first to do something have it all wrong, Bradoo said. They should be refurbishing old ideas in a new framework. "The more ideas you can borrow from, the less ideas you're actually testing with your limited resources," Bradoo said.

She cited the case of Nucor, a company that saw scrap automotive metal as a good source of steel and used distributed mini-mills to extract it, largely displacing primary steel production in the U.S.

3. Validate

BioMine will test its technology and business model through a pilot plant to test whether they can do this in a sustainable way with a low environmental footprint.

4. Kill

Bradoo acknowledged she borrowed this step from the late Steve Jobs. BioMine has yet to move through this last step.

"The most important part of innovation is not just killing ideas, but killing good ideas," she said, "because good ideas are the biggest roadblock to great ideas, particularly when you have limited resources."

Photo courtesy of Harvard Business School.