Open Innovation is about creating shared experiences with human-centered ideas

This post is a contribution for OpenIDEO open innovation challenge.

Open Innovation may have started off as a corporate phenomenon but in the Internet age, the definition has definitely evolved. Henry Chesbrough, who coined the term originally says:

“Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology”

However, I like to believe that today, open innovation has morphed into a more personal and social phenomenon. It’s more about creating shared experiences with human-centered ideas and figuring out what to do with open knowledge that is available to us and how to use it effectively.

In my personal opinion, three organizations (TED, IDEO, Acumen) have contributed a lot to popularise the concept of open innovation to connect humans. In this post, I want to share my personal journey of open innovation with TED, IDEO and Acumen and how they are changing the world by creating shared experienced with human-centered ideas.

TED initially started off as a private conference. It was only in 2006, that it started posting talks online at and by 2012 it had over billion views. TED has created other programs to create shared experiences and support open innovation such as TED Fellows Program which is a global network of 300 innovators and trailblazers from a spectrum of disciplines and the TEDx program that let’s independent organisers create TED-like experiences in their own cities is hardly 7 years old (the first TEDx event took place in 2009) and has managed to produce over 10,000 events worldwide with 50,000 talks (ideas)

I must mention here that I am a very active TEDx organizer as curator and licensee of TEDxIslamabad in Pakistan and also serve as Senior TEDx Ambassador to the region. I have been affiliated as a TEDx organizer for over 6 years now and have hosted as many as 20+ TEDx events in Pakistan, from the slums, to the himalayas with a total of 1 million views generated online and thousands of lives changed.

Moments from events organized by TEDxIslamabad

Moments from events organized by TEDxIslamabad

IDEO is definitely doing a great job by building a community for open innovation enthusiasts with the OpenIDEO platform where people from all over the world can come together to share ideas and collaborate using design-thinking. The beauty of this platform is that it evangelises the idea of open innovation in a more actionable way. There are challenges, you exchange ideas, collaborate to get ideas off the ground and connect with others in your community. Then there is DesignKit which I believe is one of the greatest tools available online for FREE, to download and use. Design Kit is’s platform to learn human-centered design, a creative approach to solving the world’s most difficult problems. Also, IDEO U deserves a mention here which is basically an online school where leaders can unlock their creative potential and build their problem-solving skills.

My first interaction with IDEO happened a couple of years back when I designed a pop-up TED experience for refugees settled in the outskirts of Islamabad. There I got to know that the box we used (provided to us by TED, called as ‘TED in a box”) was designed by some company called IDEO.

I was fortunate to get a closer look at IDEO in 2015 when I got the opportunity to work on the Amplify Refugee Education Challenge as the In-Country Community Manager and travelled all the way to Uganda to learn human-centered design by the IDEO team itself. Now, I am one of the biggest evangelists of building ideas and connecting the dots through human-centered design in Pakistan and we are building a community of people who are passionate to share, collaborate, design and learn.

I also worked on the Amplify Urban Resilience challenge as the Lead Facilitator and while working with four beautiful women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, San Francisco and Thailand, I learned that innovation can come from the places and people you least expect from. Open innovation is about opening up and accepting ideas no matter where and who they come from.

With the IDEO team in Kampala

With the IDEO team in Kampala

Acumen is doing great work by building an open innovation economy through the Acumen Fellows program which creates world leaders in emerging economies by giving them the opportunity to interact with each other and create shared learning experiences to fight poverty. In 2015, Acumen was named as one of the world’s top 10 most innovative companies in not-for-profit.

But what’s really amazing about Acumen is +Acumen. +Acumen is a platform through which Acumen is evangelising the cause of democratising leadership knowledge. The website connects enthusiasts over a variety of course subjects such as Storytelling for Change, Making sense of Social Impact, Introduction to Human-Centered Design etc.

I am very honoured to be a part of the Acumen Fellows cohort of 2016 for Pakistan along with a very awesome bunch and I really hope that I am able to share the knowledge that I gain through this journey with everyone around me.

At the Acumen Selection Conference in Lahore, Pakistan

At the Acumen Selection Conference in Lahore, Pakistan

I think a lot of people can learn from my story and the case I am trying to make is that open innovation is a very human-centered and personal phenomenon.

In this age, open innovation is an idea which anyone can adopt and make it a part of their personality. This will lead the way in achieving goals through shared experiences & shared success.

There’s a startup revolution coming and it starts with a naan tandoor!

There’s much uncertainty in the startup world of Pakistan today. While some startups are on a mission to create ‘the next big app’, others are chasing big valuations and stuff that doesn’t matter.

But what makes me happy and hopeful are startups like MARO Tandoors. What is MARO Tandoors? They call themselves the first hygienic tandoor in Lahore and while I am not sure about the hygienic part, I definitely believe the startup takes the credit for bringing very unique products to the market such as nutella naan and pizza naan. But what makes them unique is that they have managed to start a fancy tandoor startup movement. Now, all thanks to MARO we have Naan DukaanNaan Stop, Naan Dhaaba, Naan Factory and Naan Warka (coming soon!)

If these reasons are not enough to impress you, just take a look at the brilliant social media marketing campaign by MARO Tandoors that they did on their 1-year anniversary celebration. “Here’s why people keep coming back to MARO

Here’s my take on what makes them so great and what entrepreneurs in Pakistan can learn from their success:

  1. Think like a business: Essentially MARO Tandoors is not a “startup” in any way. I think the secret to their success is that they are technically a traditional business which projects itself as a startup and that’s great because it just works. Startups that think like businesses win over startups that think like startups any day.
  2. Build on top of existing ideas: Food in Pakistan – it’s everywhere and everyone wants it. Therefore the beauty of an idea like this is that you don’t need to carve out a new niche or explore a new market. You know that people out there are hungry so if you are ready to offer them something with a good quality, good value and good branding, they’d be ready to take out their wallets.
  3. Embrace the Remix: There’s a great TEDTalk by Kirby Ferguson, “Embrace the remix” where he makes the case that every idea is basically a remix of another. Remixes (in the startup/business world) are basically ideas that serve an existing market and are quick to setup and experiment with. If you think of it, MARO tandoors is basically just a remix of the old-school tandoor business and that’s exactly what makes it even more compelling to the customers.

And now for the revolution part. I see a startup revolution in Pakistan where entrepreneurs will start remixing old-school businesses by using technology as just an enabler (whether for service delivery, operations or marketing). It wouldn’t be about ‘the next big app’, it wouldn’t be about building the next building the next billion dollar company – it’d be about creating value.

I want to see a startup revolution in Pakistan where we get to see new naan tandoors not just in Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi but all cities of Pakistan and it doesn’t come filled in with just nutella or pizza but also strawberry jam (you can thank me later for the idea!). This revolution is definitely coming and it starts with a naan tandoor!

20+ hidden iPhone features I bet you didn’t know about

Spotted these very useful yet hidden iPhone features on the internet. Enjoy!

Make TouchID work faster: The iPhone 6s comes with a newer version of TouchID which is 2x faster but on older phones such as iPhone 6 and iPhone 5s there is a trick to get the same effect. Simply, save the same thumb fingerprint multiple times as different entries and TouchID will work much faster. (you can add as many as five entries)

Redial: In the Phone app, press the green call button on the keypad screen to make the last dialed number appear.

Clear cache: There’s a simple trick to make your phone run faster by clearing out the cache. In the App Store, Podcasts, Music, Game Center and Phone apps, tap on any single tab icon at the bottom of the screen 10 times in a row.

Spotlight conversions and math: You can use Spotlight search for currency or metric conversions like “20 USD in Euros” or “54 inches in feet” and it will instantly perform the conversion. Same goes for any type of math problem. No need to open the Calculator, just pull down to open Spotlight and type it right there.

Clear memory: Clearing out the ram will help you speed up your phone. Hold down the power button until you see “Slide to power off,” then let go and hold down the home button until the screen goes blank and your home screen reappears.

Delete numbers in Calculator: Speaking of the Calculator, you can delete single digits when you tap the wrong number by swiping left or right on the screen where the numbers appear.

Remote shutter: Use the volume up or down button on your headphones to snap a photo in the Camera app.

3D Touch while drawing: All of the drawing tools and the eraser are pressure sensitive in the Notes app.

Close multiple apps at once: Double-tap the home button to open the app switcher and you can use two, even three fingers to slide multiple apps closed with one swipe.

Recently closed tabs: Want to reread this article on your phone but you forgot what site you were reading it on in the first place? Simply tap and hold on the + symbol in Safari on the tab carousel view to open a screen that lists all of your recently closed tabs.

Desktop version of a site: To request the desktop version of a mobile site in Safari, simply hold down the reload button in the URL bar.

Peek at tabs and bookmarks: Not sure you want to open that tab in the Safari tab carousel? A 3D Touch will let you Peek at it first. The same can be done with bookmarks.

Edit reminders: 3D Touch an item in your Reminders app to edit the time or add a location.

View only unread emails: Tap the Mailboxes link in the top right corner of the Mail app and then tap Edit. Tap the circle next to “Unread” and you’ll have a new folder that contains only your unread emails.

Save a draft in Mail: In the Mail app, tap on the subject line and swipe down to the bottom of the screen to save a draft.

Quick Reply: When you get a notification at the top of the screen that you have a new iMessage or SMS, pull the notification downward to reply without leaving the screen you’re on.

Re-enable Low Power Mode: When Low Power Mode automatically shuts off as you charge, you’ll get a notification on your lock screen that it has been disabled. Swipe left on that notification to turn it back on.

Find an iPhone’s owner: Simply ask Siri, “whose phone is this?” and it will show you so you can get in touch with him or her and return it. This is fairly useful if you find a lost iPhone or if you want to check whether Siri recognises you as the owner on your own iPhone.

Reachability: Double-touch (don’t tap, just touch) on the home button and the entire screen will shift down so you can reach the top without shifting your grip. If you want to turn it off, simply go to Settings > General > Accessibility and look for Reachability and disable it.

Make Siri remember your spouse/parents: Ask Siri, “Call my wife” or “Call my father” and Siri will ask you to register a particular contact in context to their relation with you. This is helpful whenever you want Siri to send a text or call your wife or mother/father.

Speak Screen: This is a secret weapon in iOS that only few people know about. This would allow you to listen to any kind of text on the screen and while it’s hidden under the “Accessibility” settings, it’s actually pretty useful for normal day use. To enable, go to Settings > Accessibility > Speech and enable Speak Selection. Also, make sure to select Alex in the Voices > English section to get high quality English voice that delivers natural sounding speech.

Lessons learned while working with

Great lessons I have learned working with in the past couple of months. Essentially it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it rewired my brain. If you are in the social impact world, take note(s) but this is equally important for you if you are running a product based startup even if has nothing to do with the social impact world.

(1) Spend enough time to understand the problem

When you are off to solve a problem, try to spend as much time as you can on the problem. Einstein said so “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions” and this makes so much sense now because at the root of problem-solving, you will notice that people often do not spend enough time probing what the problem is. That’s where you need to concentrate the most and spend 90% of your brain power.

(2) Talk to the user

When I say the user I don’t mean the person or the end user of your product or solution rather anyone or everyone who comes in between. Usually when you are building a product or a solution, you would have more than just 1 group of users, some of which will not be the consumers but ecosystem players and when you are building your product its important to talk to each and everyone of them.

(3) Get feedback from real people

Don’t underestimate the power of feedback. I have seen happen in the development sector in Pakistan (which is mostly the reason why the whole sector is so screwed up). You can’t make decisions for thousands of people sitting in an air-conditioned room based on a baseline survey that you did, that’s just plain wrong. You will have to leave your comfort zone and talk to “real” people who are going to use your solutions and get real feedback for them if you want your thing to work.

(4) Don’t judge people and their ideas.

The crazy ones are indeed “the misfits, the rebels…” but they are also the ones “who think they are crazy enough to change the world” and actually do so. So when brainstorming about solutions and fixing problems, defer judgement and try to think as crazy and wild as possible and encourage people working with you to do so.

(Bonus) Consult the Field Guide for HCD

If there’s one book that has found a permanent place in my bag, it’s the Field Guide to Human Centered Design. There’s a free copy available on this link but I would encourage you to buy the hard copy and keep it with you at all times.