How World Class Innovators Create the Unexpected
Krish Krishnan fuses:
- scientific advances & technologies with business
- ideas & people from around the world
Dr. Warsito P. Taruno, an Indonesian physicist, trained in Japan and went to Ohio State University (in the US). He developed a technology to measure small differences in electrical capacitance—how electrically conductive a material is. He developed it to find obstructions in oil pipes, gas, water, etc., without breaking open the pipe. But there's an even-more-complex collection of pipes—the human body. What would happen if you used this technology on a human body?
The physicist returned to Indonesia and did just that—took readings with the technology on humans. The specific property he works with is permittivity—the distribution of electrical capacitance in a 3-dimensional space.
Cancer cells have different permittivity from normal cells. That's already well-established. Women hate getting mammograms. That's also well-established. It normally requires a general-practitioner visit, referral, paperwork, disrobing in a cold hospital room, and an uncomfortable or painful test, only to discover the presence of a lump on a 2-dimensional image—not whether it's cancerous, and not revealing its location 3-dimensionally.
How do we actually test for cancer? We locate the mass during surgery, perform a biopsy and lab analysis, followed by yet another patient-physician visit to discuss results. After a lumpectomy, another mammogram is often necessary to see if the surgeon removed all the dangerous material. But that's too painful soon after surgery, so cancerous tissue can still remain while the patient is unable to undergo the follow-up test.
How might we test for cancer in future? The VisiGram—a conical sensor that fits comfortably over breast and clothing, scans the breast's permittivity, and displays 3D readings immediately via desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, etc. A non-malignant lump can be diagnosed on the spot, and the patient can return for monitoring anytime—every day if she wants. When the mass grows faster than it should or becomes cancerous, caregiver and patient can both see it immediately and decide what to do—impossible with a mammogram, since we need to limit our exposure to radiation.
It's already being tested. Hundreds of women in Indonesia have volunteered to share their readings, forming a growing body of research data.
"We already know the permittivity data tells us what's a malignant cell and what's a benign cell. The boundary between them is not clear—it's a continuum. But the more data points we get, the narrower the boundary becomes."
Of course, new medical technology ignites questions and visions of disaster, for example women not receiving treatment when they should have gone for biopsy surgery. However, not everyone has access to formal healthcare procedures, and a variety of economic and cultural factors inhibit women from breast cancer screening, especially in poorer nations and among minorities in wealthy ones.
According to the WHO, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. Most breast cancer deaths are in developing countries, where diagnosis is generally late—and incidence is rising.
Village or neighborhood clinics generally don't have the money for new diagnostic devices, but what if the device were free and the test—delivered over the cloud—were provided at a small fee? Crowd-funding and personal gifts could fund the rest. What if you gave your mother a VisiGram on Mother's Day? Or added a donation sticker on your InterFlora card showing that another mother somewhere in the world will receive a VisiGram as part of the gift?
How else might we use the technology, with development and testing? The pap-smear girdle (or colorectal, gastro-intestinal, etc.), BrainScan helmet, and more. You could potentially wrap it around any part of your body and create a 3-dimensional permittivity image, finding any cancer, or potentially, other permittivity disruptors.
Dr. Taruno met Krish Krishnan at a conference in a tiny village in Germany focused on laser therapy (not permittivity or cancer). Krish is not himself a researcher, but he is a biochemist-MBA accelerator co-founder, and is now working with Dr. Taruno to develop and commercialize the technology. The plan is to develop a breast-imaging company, which will expand to other applications and other nations, organically.
With his business acumen, Krish knows existing mammogram equipment companies won't like this. So, instead of competing with the GE's and Siemenses of the world or partnering with them (because big companies kill disruptive initiatives), VisiGram envisions taking the game away from them. Mammogram and MRI machines cost USD 120,000 to USD 200,000. A VisiGram device currently costs USD 2,000 and can be sold, or even given away if there's enough revenue stream from testing.
Krish knows that within a corporate environment, it'll take a long time to break through policies and procedures to address a disruptor. He intends to get VisiGram to the market and grow before they retaliate.
How would he know what corporations can and cannot do? Simple—he worked for Novo Nordisk for 15 years selling industrial enzymes around the world, especially in emerging markets. His job was to take technologies and needs and put them together internationally, sometimes telling headquarters in Denmark that what they're offering won't really work the same way in China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, etc.
"My years at Novo Nordisk International were amazing. If I were to review my whole life for learning—that was when I learned the most."
Krish had learned a good deal of science before business. He earned a BS in life sciences, then an MS in biochemistry, but disrupted his own path with an MBA.
"It became pretty clear that I didn't want to do a PhD, because I couldn't stand the idea of having my real career start when I'm well into my 30's. I had gone to do a PhD in Canada but told my profs I wasn't going to do it—I'd get an MBA. They thought I was nuts."
He lived in California for a while because it was a hotbed of biotech, and worked in India, in what he describes as "a complete aberration of my career—American Express." Working for a finance company may have proven useful, however, since he now raises funding for startups. After a year there, he got bored and joined a Swedish Company called Pharmacia—a critical step towards Novo Nordisk, which set him on a path of science and business discovery.
In fact, discovery and reaching out with new ideas began much earlier. Krish was born in Kerala, India and lived in a variety of locations (and cultures and languages) around the nation. He moved to Malaysia for more than 10 years, growing up in Kuala Lumpur, and returned to India to "finish" his education. He speaks English, Hindi, Tamil, and Bahasa Indonesian.
During his formative years in Malaysia, his expatriate Indian father would invite colleagues from his company to dinner—CEO's, MD's, and other executives—Europeans, Americans, and more. They would enjoy traditional Indian food and entertainment, and the children would dine with the adults. Krish was encouraged to participate, and there was an incident one evening, in which Krish spoke his mind about an issue, and the guest he was addressing replied, "What do you know? You're a kid." Krish's father stopped immediately and said, "In my household, I encourage my children to participate in conversation and share their opinions." He gave respect to his son (and the other kids), listened to everyone's ideas, and dinner conversations were a venue for debating positions and deciphering truth. Boundaries were few—no doors.
Crossing boundaries is one of Krish's strengths. ("One of the key things is rules don't matter."). Another is making connections. At the laser conference where he met Dr. Taruno, he met a German doctor who invented a way to use lasers inside the human body (first in the world), with dramatic results. Krish connected him with a 75-year-old cancer patient who was sent home by her doctors to die but is now receiving laser therapy.
At the same conference, he was listening to someone describe how oxygen stresses tumours. An agent that raises blood oxygen levels can be administered by injection or capsule and followed by laser.
"So he was talking about all of this, and I had a gem of an idea at the back of my head. I looked up all the stuff that I know, and I found it. There was a Russian invention from years ago, originally a blood substitute.… Now I'm in the middle of putting them together."
Not only does Krish attend conferences, but he also reads widely, and continuously scans for and connects with new ideas and people. He often connects them with each other or works to spread them to other parts of the world, especially Asia, where he lives.
In fact, it's such a way of life that he and his wife, Suzanne Druce, co-founded JEIVA, a consultancy for commercializing innovation. What began as a broad-based management consultancy serving European and Asian clients in non-precious metals, engineering, chemicals, biotech, medtech, and pharmaceuticals, then became more focused. They built their network, grew by word-of-mouth, and now can focus on what is close to their hearts and desired legacy—innovations in human health and ecology.
They pursue what no one else is doing but needs to be done.
JIVA means (roughly) life in Sanskrit. They choose projects that should make a difference in the world but don't attract enough systematic attention and funding. They apply their own systematic attention—an innovation process from idea to concept to technology to prototype and beyond, which they've called Technology Syndesis©.
Syn (together) + dein (to tie) = combining or binding together. JEIVA seeks to synergise and liberate what is currently pre-market or low-penetration, buried in specialist silos, resident in different technology clusters, isolated within intra-organizational silos, or restricted/controlled by current market structures or players.
Even after they've taken a project, they often find venture capitalists can't fund it because their timeframes are too short. Angels' pockets are too shallow. Private equity can't assess the risks. A big player in the industry would kill it. But someone in another industry (e.g. insurance or telecommunications) knows they need to cross industry boundaries and pull together in a new way.
"The people who are going to succeed with innovation, who are going to build tomorrow's 100-year-old companies, are those that understand how to deploy the convergence of science/technology in the most effective way for human benefit. What has siloed is now pulling back together. The only source of innovation in the future is going to be that pull."
In the past 11 years, they've not only gathered a science/business network but have also gathered and kept track of a large number of technologies from around the world. Innovators most often abandon their projects in the prototype-to-product stage, frustrated by lack of immediate acceptance (and funding), with a desire to move on to the next puzzle.
"Then comes the things that JIEVA does, or Suzanne tells me I do. I think, ‘what if I put this and this together—is it going to make something new? Is that something possible? Who do I need to talk to? How can I make it happen? How long would it take, and who might fund it?' Now we actually have a large enough bank of concepts and technologies (and in rare cases prototypes) where we can actually make it happen."
Interestingly, 10 years is the average incubation period for creative individuals to have a major breakthrough. Like JEIVA (a creative company), during that time they collect ideas and people and hone their skills. They build innovation capital.
In Krish's case, the ideas, people, and skills are remarkably broad.
"He's cycling between 20 different subjects in his head at any point in time, as a way of being. He'll be on the phone to a mentee in Malaysia about a palm-tree trunk chipper. He'll give some advice, put the phone down, and it rings again. It's somebody from Russia talking about oil-drilling technology. He puts the phone down and says, ‘Oh, that's interesting. There are parallels here, and yesterday I had a similar conversation with a new tech provider—I'll connect those people.' He can see in his head how to attach one thing to another, then how it connects with someone he met in another industry at a cocktail party. Then he calls a series of people until he's got a business model and go-to-market strategy that works for everyone. And he doesn't understand how other people don't do that."
- Suzanne Druce, wife & Co-Founder & Director of JEIVA
"I love an intellectual challenge. I get a real rush from having people telling me they haven't thought of it."
Krish is described as intelligent, thoughtful, honest, authentic, very opinionated, bold, confident, open, extremely generous, empathetic (perspective-taking, emotional resonance, and compassionate action), resilient, perseverant, stress-tolerant, strong, alternately frustrating and infuriating, and a talker who speaks his mind freely, wants to be involved, and says yes to everything.
Colleagues say: If there's any way to interrupt his day when he's busy, it'll be to ask for help. He can demystify complicated topics, and there are no barriers—he can talk to anyone and is genuinely interested. That said, he knows how to manage his personal boundaries and maintain his energy. He talks about what's real, and it resonates with people.
"Never underestimate what you don't know. Krish unlocked my mind and helped me undo my thinking. He'll tell you everything he knows that's of value to you. This comes at a price, though. You'll need to be equally open to receiving criticism and questions."
- Chandrasekhar Arun, mentee
"He's not satisfied to not know. He speed reads, sits up late at night, and reaches out. He's constantly absorbing and constantly linking."
- Suzanne Druce, wife and Co-Founder & Director of JEIVA
To Krish, ideas are personal, and people are approachable, the way they were around the dinner table. He backward chains, i.e. follows references back to earlier works, sometimes contacting the authors for a discussion. He has a sharp memory and can recognize new work as belonging to someone he read or spoke with before.
He needs to "go off to his cave" a lot, alone. When something's on his mind (as it usually is), he'll read, watch YouTube, listen to music, or do nothing at all, often at night. At the last minute when something is needed for a project, he'll wrap it up and present it, having thought about it (consciously or not) for however many nights it needed thinking.
He enjoys swimming and squash, which are specific and purposeful, but loves tai-chi and yoga, which have no end. One of the reasons he began martial tai-chi, the mother of most martial arts, is because there's no belt system. It's about 10 years before you achieve any kind of mastery—the same timing as personal creative breakthroughs.
But what about collective creative breakthroughs, and how do individuals fit in? What kinds of individuals are needed, and how long does it take?
"The people I admire most in the world were polymaths. They had expertise in many different areas and could jump from one to another—Buckminster Fuller, Edison, Lister, Darwin, Pasteur. Originally, there were no fields. But for the past 130 years or so, we've siloed ourselves in them. Now, science is all coming back together again. What's there in biotechnology is so close to nanotechnology, physics, and chemistry. We had to go deep, but now, knowledge is a Google-search away. For the world to progress, we need people who acquire knowledge, connect broadly across fields, and have a meta-mindframe."
Krish has a meta-mindframe—thinking that rises above industries, fields, etc., sees commonalities and patterns, and cross-connects. He loves to have idea jam sessions with wacky, boundaryless thinkers like himself. They're hard to find and largely unemployable since they like their freedom, but every now and then a company is born from one of those discussions, like VisiGram or xCyton (another Fusion story).
Many fusions are required to create and bring something to the world, and you don't personally have to do each one. Krish didn't fuse permittivity technology and healthcare, but he did understand it with enough depth to recognize its value, and then fused it with startup acceleration. Without startup acceleration, it might just languish in a lab.
Krish is open to new ideas and people, both inward (reading & listening) and outward (helping). He is inwardly open to inspiration and manages his internal space with time alone to think, and martial tai-chi. He collects interesting ideas and people (whether they interest anyone else or not), in conferences, backward-chained publications, acceleration work, and social gatherings. When he senses something of interest with his particular lens on the world (med-tech and eco-tech acceleration), it either moves backward into the collection or forward to fusing and action.
The act of fusion itself goes beyond connecting something sensed with something easily accessed in the mind. It may require digging in the collection (mind, laptop, etc.) to find something intuition says is there, searching outside for information and people, and backward and forward chaining until all the needed dots are connected into a pattern—a workable new business with a path to growth. At a meta-level (organizational), this is JEIVA's process, as well, and can be any innovator's or organization's. Once you've opened outward and inward, once you've collected (intensively or long-term), and once you've sensed something with your own innovation lens, it's time to connect.
Are you open, outward & inward?
Are you building your collection?
Once you sense, do you make a new picture, backward- and forward-connecting your dots, whether they're already collected or not?
What will your new picture be?
1. one who innovates across domains of industry, field, country, social class, etc.
◦ s radical innovator, interdisciplinary creator, T-shaped person, borderless freethinker, boundary-crossing integrator, oddball;
Krish Krishnan is Co-Founder & Director of JEIVA International Pte. Ltd., a strategy & innovation company, as well as Director of Biospheire International Sdn. Bhd., a turnaround and interim management firm. He is also a Strategic Advisor to ImmunoHeal Pte. Ltd., dedicated to fighting disease with the immune system; minimizing risk and long-term drug dependence; improving quality of life; and increasing access to affordable health care. He's "from" Denmark, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the USA (lived 6 months+, countries listed in alphabetical order). For more information on his work, see: LinkedIn and JEIVA.
I thank the participants in this study (Fusioneers and Friends) for your insights, sharing, help, and patience. You inspire me, and I am honoured to know you. Special thanks go to Gladys Lee for her marketing excellence and video- and podcast-production brilliance, as well as the host of creative professionals involved in producing the videos and podcasts (you're all listed on YouTube, iTunes, etc.). I extend a warm thanks to Fusion Research Assistant Dr. Lee Poh Chin for her continually-wise and dedicated contribution to this research, as well as i2i Executive Shareff Uthuman for managing the rats-nest of global research travel and budgets. I thank Nitish Jain and the S P Jain School of Global Management for supporting this research—you're the foundation that enables the whole project. You are all God-sends. It takes a village to write a paper.
Photo/video cuts courtesy of Krish Krishnan, Depositphotos, and our own creative team.
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