It seemed like a brilliant idea: when social entrepreneur Simon Berry wanted to figure out how to get medicine to remote parts of Africa, he designed a special package that could fit in the empty spaces between bottles of Coke. Coca-Cola, after all, has built a distribution network that can get almost anywhere. Berry's design, the Kit Yamayo—filled with a treatment for diarrhea that can help save children's lives—won the Design Museum's Product of the Year award earlier this year because of its innovative plan for delivery. But it turned out that piggybacking on Coke's trucks was just the first idea.
Berry says he's now using the idea as a metaphor, figuring out how to learn from and copy Coke's distribution rather than literally putting the medicine in Coke's crates. He told New Scientist:
In the end, hardly any of our kits have been put into [Coca-Cola] crates. Instead, what has worked is copying Coca-Cola's business techniques: create a desirable product, market it like mad, and put the product in a distribution system at a price so that everyone can make a profit. If there is demand and retailers can make a profit, then they will do anything to meet that demand.
What's interesting here is not that the plans for the Kit Yamayo have changed course; learning from trial and error happens, and should happen, with most design. But the story points at something more important. Everyone loves clever and surprising designs. The more innovative, the more attention they get. If a social entrepreneur just said "let's learn from a smart distribution network," would they get headlines? We need to give more attention to ideas that work, regardless of how sexy they are. And we need to be more careful about automatically applauding something that sounds good before it's proven in real life.
Image by ColaLife