What Is Reverse Innovation, And Is It For You?

When you consider innovation, you most likely consider high-income nations which have each the know-how and the monetary means to make innovation occur. It’s uncommon that we affiliate low-income nations with innovation as these nations are largely thought to be sole beneficiaries of improvements deployed by developed nations.

Many firms are reluctant to put money into creating nations, and those who resolve to enter these new territories, have a low charge of success. There are many underlying causes for this, from little understanding of the market, lack of infrastructure and reference to the native realities, to regulatory techniques and collaborations with intermediaries.

However, a serious trigger for the wrestle is that they keep on with conventional methods. They create downgraded variations of their merchandise or make small tweaks hoping to efficiently serve the brand new market with cheaper, lower-quality merchandise.

Things have began to alter, and each rising and creating markets, are slowly changing into hotbeds for innovation, presenting new alternatives for each native and world firms to innovate. This is the higher strategy, the reversed one.

However, it’s not straightforward to go down that highway. That’s why this text is all about reverse innovation, the way it works (if it really works), and what it takes to make it occur. We’ll additionally present loads of examples that may function inspiration and classes to study from.

Without additional ado, let’s get to it.

What Is Reverse Innovation

The interconnection between the world’s economies, cultures, and populations, or what we most frequently seek advice from as globalization has enabled exponential financial development and prosperity for many individuals, however it additionally introduced earnings disparity and inequality and put a pressure on the atmosphere. Glocalization promised to be the answer by incorporating the worldwide concepts, applied sciences, merchandise, and companies into the native wants.

Innovation is a serious pressure for financial development, which may vastly enhance the livelihood of individuals in creating nations. But glocalization doesn’t equal innovation. Reverse innovation guarantees a greater resolution.

elements of reverse innovation

The idea has had its share of controversy and criticism through the years, and it has been known as various things; bidirectional, multidirectional, frugal, and so forth.

However, these are secondary ideas we don’t wish to ponder upon for too lengthy, as our main purpose right here is to shed some mild on this less-known sort of innovation that, within the present financial and social context, may have nice potential.

So, what precisely is reverse innovation?

Reverse innovation refers to improvements developed in and for low-income, creating markets which are later efficiently tailored and adopted within the high-income, developed markets.


The idea was launched and popularized by the previous Chairman and CEO of General Electrics, Jeff Immelt, in addition to Vijay Govindarajan, Professor of International Business and Chris Trimble, each authors of Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators – From Idea to Execution.

engineering reverse innovation HBR

The mannequin attracts similarities with the Bottom of Pyramid socio-economic mannequin, which in brief goals to concurrently present development for each society and companies. The thought behind it’s to lower poverty on the base of the worldwide wealth pyramid, which supplies development alternatives for world companies.

However, the principle distinction between the 2 is that whereas reverse innovation is centered round progressive options that may profit each creating and developed nations, the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) mannequin doesn’t depend on innovation.

As for the feasibility of the BOP mannequin, some argue that it is rather troublesome for multinational firms to efficiently implement it. Local realities confirmed that prime margins are very onerous to realize if you wish to enhance the livelihood of tens of millions of individuals.

To assist you get a extra strong grasp of the idea, we are able to additionally draw a parallel between reverse and disruptive innovation. As you would possibly know, disruptive innovation, as outlined by Clay Christensen refers to improvements that both displace established leaders out there or create a brand new market and worth community.


Disruptive innovation is just like reverse innovation as a result of they each enter on the backside of a market by way of inexpensive, extra accessible options and transfer as much as take over market leaders which have high-cost options.

Disruptive innovation can occur in developed, creating, or rising markets, whereas reverse innovation refers strictly to these improvements that begin in low-income nations and transfer upwards to high-income ones.

One final distinction to be made right here is that reverse innovation might be created both by incumbents that wish to obtain enlargement development or by native companies that can export their improvements to the developed markets. Disruptive innovation, then again, isn’t created by incumbents.

Now that we clarified what reverse innovation is and isn’t, let’s see what the advantages and causes are to both contemplate it or be impressed by it.

The Advantages Of Reverse Innovation

Before taking place the rabbit gap of reverse innovation, let’s take a step again and take a look at the context during which it takes place.

While it’s essential to make the excellence between the rising and the creating nations, the case of reverse innovation can apply to each. Emerging markets have a rising financial system and rising shopper inhabitants, whereas the creating ones have weaker economies and smaller shopper inhabitants.

emerging countries UN and McKinseySource: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; McKinsey Global Institute Analysis

That being mentioned, for simplicity and readability, we determined to make use of each phrases interchangeably, as the fundamental ideas, challenges, and finest practices of reverse innovation apply to each varieties of market.

  • Business Development Alternatives

As economies of rising nations are rising, so is their middle-class inhabitants and the buying energy. In truth, it’s anticipated that by 2030, 1.3 billion extra individuals could have greater buying energy than at this time. This brings each alternatives and challenges.

At the identical time, 2022 enterprise insights on rising economies confirmed that the worldwide pandemic pushed tens of millions of individuals again into excessive poverty, however it has additionally modified how companies function. Just like in all places around the globe, in rising markets the digital know-how adoption has accelerated, as has the demand for sustainable methods.

An inspiring instance comes from the Italian multinational power producer and distributor Enel, which created Innovation Hubs all around the world to reply to rising challenges by way of open collaboration with native expertise, enterprise incubators, universities, or authorities establishments.

It’s fascinating to notice that reverse innovation may also draw advantages from different varieties of innovation. Here we are able to see how open innovation performs a job in what may turn out to be reverse innovation. For Enel, open collaboration enabled the creation of progressive merchandise just like the hydrogen and lithium-based micro-grid system with electrical energy storage, in Chile.

  • Protect Incumbents From Being Disrupted

Local firms in rising or creating markets may not have the identical monetary assets and innovation capabilities as multinational firms, however they do have a serious benefit.

They have a deep understanding of their market, the native issues, the dangers, and alternatives in fixing these issues. Multinational firms, then again, have the capabilities, however except they’ve native partnerships, subsidiaries, or models, they may have a tough time increasing in these areas.

So, it’s straightforward to see how this David and Goliath state of affairs may play in actual life. It occurred earlier than, within the 70s and 80s when Japanese automakers disrupted the American automotive market.

A beloved and reasonably priced automobile for Russians and folks from the Soviet Block, however extensively mocked for its high quality, Lada was the best-selling automobile throughout its glory days. Renault’s CEO was impressed by Lada’s success which was outselling Renault in Eastern Europe, and teamed up with the Romanian automobile producer Dacia, to provide Dacia Logan, an reasonably priced household automobile.

Instead of simply stripping off options to serve low-income shoppers, like different automobile producers tried to do and failed, Renault constructed a mannequin with a simplified structure and minimal parts whereas protecting it dependable and power environment friendly. Dacia grew to become Renault’s best-selling automobile, particularly within the context of recession and cost-conscious shoppers.

dacia logan innovation renault

Renault’s innovation was delivering a high-value product at a decrease value. Then it was reversed by creating and promoting to high-income nations, a whole line of low-cost automobiles modeled after Logan’s know-how platform. In 2021 Dacia reached the high 3 of European retail gross sales and the enhancements they created by way of reverse innovation performed an enormous position on this achievement.

Speaking of enhancements, that is one other means reverse innovation can profit companies.

  • Learning And Enchancment Alternatives

As the earlier instance confirmed, reverse innovation may also educate you a lot classes on the best way.

In his reverse innovation playbook Govindarajan identifies 5 main gaps between the creating and the developed nations and he sees them as alternatives to innovate. Among these are the shortage of infrastructure in creating nations and the unfastened laws.

These might sound extra like challenges than alternatives, however being much less restricted by way of laws, signifies that there’s a decrease studying curve due to the power to do extra testing, which ends up in helpful insights.

Unfortunately, when there are much less laws there’s additionally extra room for unethical conduct, like within the mid-Nineteen Fifties with the event and trial of the contraception tablet on girls in Puerto Rico. Innovations that cope with healthcare and folks’s wellbeing might be controversial, however it doesn’t imply there aren’t moral methods during which these might be created in developed or rising nations.

The Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC) is one such instance. The LFC is an all-terrain wheelchair designed by MIT for creating nations, to assist individuals with disabilities transfer past pavement, as these nations not often have wheelchair-accessible buildings and paved roads.

LFC reverse innovation exampleSource: wdo.org

To get to the ultimate product, the workforce realized from many checks and iterations. They had assist from partnerships and customers all through the creating world. They tried prototypes in East Africa, Guatemala, and India and this led to essential design modifications.

For the US and European nations, the LFC was upgraded to fulfill the realities of the native markets. It was collapsible to slot in the automobile, it had quick-release wheels that may be simply eliminated with one hand, and it was created from bicycle elements sourced domestically. Off-road wheelchairs within the US are priced at over 5000$ whereas the GRIT Freedom Chair (the US model) could possibly be bought for half the value.

Had it not been for all of the checks and studying expertise within the creating nations, MIT couldn’t have designed a product for the developed markets that provided greater worth at a lower cost.

It’s not possible to get it proper the primary time round, particularly within the case of progressive merchandise. Prototyping, testing, and iterating in your concepts is crucial and reversing innovation can improve the tempo of those actions, enhancing the probability of success.

  • Frugality And Constraints Result In Progressive Concepts

Both the Renault and LFC examples educate us one thing in regards to the position of constrains in innovation. “Necessity is the mother of invention” and innovating in nations with restricted assets and infrastructure, in addition to authorized constraints, seize the essence of the proverb completely.

When you begin with clear constraints that actually pressure you to rethink the best way you’ve normally accomplished issues, you possibly can give you actual out of the field improvements. Constraints pressure you to be artistic and perceive the essence of downside higher than in a state of affairs the place you didn’t have such limitations. This is an effective way to create a aggressive benefit.

Renault was constrained by the Eastern European market to ship a product that would ship worth at a low value. Dacia Logan was first priced at 6500$ whereas offering an important dimension and trunk house, greater floor clearance and extra reliability than competing merchandise. For this, they used fewer elements and manufactured it in Romania the place manufacturing prices are decrease.

To crack the European market, Renault added additional security options, and enhanced its look to enchantment to shoppers that would afford a rise in value. They priced it at 9400$ in Western Europe the place in only one 12 months that they had a 19% improve in gross sales. Constraints in Eastern Europe pushed Renault to create a wholly new design, leading to excessive worth at decrease value.

While it at all times sounds good on paper, reality is that reverse innovation has been the exception quite than the rule. This is slowly altering, however there are nonetheless many challenges one will face within the course of.

The Pitfalls Of Reverse Innovation

Innovation alone is at all times difficult, so understandably, profitable reverse innovation, with its added complexity, is a tough nut to crack. The idea is topic to criticism as there’s typically overlap with different varieties of improvements and its lack of cohesiveness tends to hinder the dependable growth from idea to follow.

But whether or not you wish to give it a attempt or just be impressed by reverse innovation, it’s good to concentrate on its pitfalls.

It may be counterintuitive that reverse innovation requires excessive funding since we’re speaking about low-income nations the place labor is inexpensive and manufacturing prices are considerably decrease.

time investment

In truth, operational bills in rising and creating nations might be greater due to the poor infrastructure and excessive distribution prices. What’s extra, buyer acquisition is just not as simple as in developed markets because it depends rather a lot on communities and networks of individuals. Unless you might have the best go-to market technique, the logistics would possibly lower your revenue margins significantly.

Of course, all these prices are relative to the dimensions of the corporate, and whether or not you’re a world firm trying to develop and innovate in new markets, or a home one that may not have the monetary means to scale innovation.

As a multinational firm, you possibly can’t create reverse innovation from a distance. You want native groups and companions, which require not simply extra funding, but additionally a brand new mindset, a unique strategy, and nice management, which makes us consider one other problem.

Innovation is about difficult the established order, and this can’t be accomplished by sticking to the previous methods of doing issues. Organizations which are able to innovate overseas have reached a stage the place they perceive the stakes of constructing innovation occur. However, in terms of innovating in rising or creating nations, radical modifications are wanted.

Companies should rethink staffing, construct native groups that haven’t simply the enterprise capabilities, and assets to innovate, but additionally the authority to resolve on the technique.

One resolution that Govindarajan suggests is decentralization and give attention to native markets. Most individuals and assets for reverse innovation ought to be based mostly and managed domestically. The Local Growth Teams (LGT), as he calls them, ought to have revenue and loss duty in addition to decision-making powers to resolve on what merchandise to develop, and the way. Of course, which means that high administration assist and belief are a should.

  • Ethical And Sustainability Issues

Trust is certainly important, however not solely belief that the native groups will work within the firm’s finest curiosity, but additionally belief that their improvements are within the society and atmosphere’s finest pursuits. Which is just not straightforward to realize, as reverse innovation may also backlash.

There’s an ongoing critique of organizations that use rising and creating nations as incubators for improvements within the worst sense of the phrase. The authorized and regulatory obstacles we talked about above are a double-edged sword. They can facilitate extra fast modifications that aren’t potential in developed nations.

At the identical time, additionally they allow them to make the most of unfastened laws and dump on creating nations all of the downsides of large-scale manufacturing or deal with them like Guinea pigs for experimental merchandise.

To tackle this challenge, world firms ought to collaborate with native companies to grasp the native tradition, clients, in addition to their wants, and issues higher. This exhibits not simply that they’re delicate to native points, however that they really wish to give you one of the best options to their issues, and never simply to make the most of the scenario and win large cash.

  • Difficulty In Getting Into The Developed Markets

Many of those challenges concern largely multinational firms on the lookout for alternatives to innovate in creating or rising nations. On the opposite facet of the fence, although, the small, native companies can discover it onerous to scale their improvements, even when they’re disruptive.

On one hand, they may not have the assets to scale to developed nations, and on the opposite, they face cultural bias and culturally embedded preconceptions. One such instance was the oral rehydration remedy (ORT), an innovation created in Bangladesh within the late 60s which saved tens of millions of lives.

It took over twenty years for this innovation to catch up within the developed nations, the place docs opposed this resolution in favor of the costlier, intravenous one, seen as extra scientific.

But there are additionally success tales which show that improvements from rising nations might be profitable in developed markets. The Chinese automobile producer BYD is displaying lots of promise because it surpassed Tesla gross sales within the first half of 2022. Even although by way of revenue Tesla is at the moment nonetheless main, BYD has the potential to disrupt Western markets because it supplies strong worth at a decrease value.

Lessons From Success Tales

Most firms that select to outsource manufacturing to rising or creating nations do it for cost-efficiency. Those with an progressive strategy, although, see potential past prices, and so they reap the advantages in the long run. How did they get there and what can we study from their expertise? Let’s briefly take a look at three firms that efficiently created reverse innovation.

Maybe some of the cited examples of reverse innovation is General Electric, as they’re additionally the one which popularized the idea. GE Healthcare was recognized for manufacturing high-end healthcare merchandise like X-ray machines, ECG, MRI scanners, or CT scanners that had been bought for 1000’s of {dollars} in Western nations.

GE EKG reverse innovation

In 2005 they began engaged on an ECG machine destined for the Indian market. So, amongst different issues, it needed to be reasonably priced, sturdy, and transportable. As there have been different low-cost options available on the market, their large problem was to create a product that was each top quality and low value. Their conventional strategy in devising these merchandise wouldn’t work on this context, in order that they needed to discover a new strategy.

In 2007 they launched the MAC 400 transportable ECG and after some bumps on the highway, they managed to get the product rolling by way of direct gross sales. The product rapidly grew to become profitable in Europe as properly, with gross sales figures equal to these in China and India. A greater model quickly adopted with the Mac i being lighter, outfitted with a smaller printer, and had an excellent lower cost.

In 2009 GE additionally launched the Lullaby child hotter developed to enhance toddler care in India. It’s now utilized in over eighty nations around the globe, developed markets included.

The success of those merchandise taught GE that constraints can result in out of the field pondering which brings nice outcomes, so long as you take note the worth you wish to create for the client.

Another success story comes from P&G and its cough syrup with honey, which was first developed for the Latin American markets. They realized from market analysis that folks in Latin America most popular homeopathic cures for colds and coughs. So, they changed synthetic flavorings of their medication, with pure honey. They first introduce VickMiel in Mexico and later expanded to Brazil. Over the years they efficiently rolled out the product within the US and Europe.

The new product gained traction in developed markets because it was bought at a lower cost than Vicks, their model within the US and Europe. The lesson right here is that completely different cultures have completely different preferences and it’s essential to grasp the demographics of each creating and developed nations, as these can differ considerably. Reverse innovation ought to create an providing particularly tailor-made to the wants of the markets you wish to serve.

Harman, a outstanding participant within the automotive infotainment market, efficiently created reverse innovation once they seemed for brand spanking new alternatives to develop their market attain.

At the time, they had been supplying infotainment techniques for premium automobiles, so their merchandise had been centered on options, know-how, and nice engineering. When they first tried to cater to the mainstream market by stripping down their product to the naked minimal, the technique simply didn’t work.

They had to return to the drafting board and determine a brand new strategy. The resolution was to create a brand new middle in India, the place the merchandise can be developed.

They didn’t rethink simply the techniques, but additionally how they design software program, and had to seriously change the best way the corporate operated. The new product needed to be versatile and modular to simply adapt to completely different wants whereas assembly formidable value targets.

Traditionally, their German engineering groups labored in subdivisions, every for a particular know-how. While environment friendly for incremental enhancements, this mannequin was pricey and inflexible.

To improve flexibility and cut back prices, the groups in India had been organized round features they’d develop, which made it potential to give you, in only one 12 months, a wholly new structure for the infotainment system. It was nonetheless assembly top quality requirements, but additionally met value and value targets and was versatile sufficient to scale to the automobile producers’ completely different wants.

The most essential lesson to study from Harman’s instance is the essential position of an excellent baseline to assist streamline reverse innovation and scale it to developed markets. Technology has advanced since they first began, so it was crucial to have in place a scientific strategy for innovation, in addition to the processes and governance wanted to keep up a quick tempo of innovation of their Indian middle.

The new organizational construction, in addition to the brand new design strategies ensured continuity to the brand new models and allowed the corporate to thrive in each developed and creating markets.


Reverse innovation may not be accessible to all organizations, however that doesn’t imply that there aren’t issues to study from this framework.

Even although the subject has generated extra educational analysis than tangible outcomes, it doesn’t imply you possibly can’t get one of the best out of it.

So, keep in mind that this is only one avenue of innovation that’s emphasizing an important factor: constraints and limitations will pressure you to search out higher options and give you out of the field concepts and improvements, whether or not they’re reversed or not.

At the identical time, attempting to innovate in these markets may also assist you distill down concepts to basic truths, and see new options to present issues. This is what first ideas pondering is all about, and a basis for systematic innovation.

Whether you resolve to go to rising or creating markets, or you’re already in a single, ultimately the identical factor applies: to achieve success it’s a must to actually perceive your market and clients, their numerous wants, and aspirations.

If you wish to study extra on the best way to make innovation occur and navigate the challenges, we created The Innovation System program along with our clients who work day by day on innovation. The on-line course is a teaching program that dives deep into all issues company innovation by way of 26 video lectures, workouts, instruments and templates.

Source: www.viima.com

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