Look at any industry, in any market, and you’ll find the same strategy playing out everywhere. Companies compete with one another in a mindless race to the bottom, matching products and services feature for feature, competing primarily on price. This commoditizes markets and drives down prices and margins. But ultimately, no one wins—not even the consumer--as quality, service and differentiation suffer. We call this senseless strategy “Attrition Competition”, and it is derived from prevailing military strategy, which seeks to overwhelm competitors.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus is a global emergency. To fight it, humans have to find a way to kill the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.
Two marketing agencies in Brazil have designed a novel way to do just that. They call it The Mosquito Killer Billboard. It's a great example of the Task Unification Technique, one of five in the innovation method called Systematic Inventive Thinking. Here's how their innovation works:
The division technique works by dividing a product or its components functionally or physically and then rearranging them back into the product. Division is a powerful technique because it forces you to break fixedness, especially structural fixedness. Division forces you to create configurations by rearranging components in ways you were not likely to have done on with on your own.
You've heard that old adage. Don't judge a book by its cover. The same holds true in creativity. We want to resist the temptation of judging ideas depending on where it came from. Yet, its very difficult for us to do this. If we like the person, we tend to like their idea. And if we don't like that person, well, let's just say we might see a few more flaws than we might have otherwise.
I love umbrellas and the many versions that demonstrate the five patterns of Systematic Inventive Thinking. Here's a new one that demonstrates the Task Unification pattern. Task Unification is defined as: assigning an additional task to an existing resource. That resource should be in the immediate vicinity of the problem, or what we call The Closed World. In essence, it's taking something that is already around you and giving an additional job.
Task Unification is defined as: assigning an additional task to an existing resource. That resource should be in the immediate vicinity of the problem, or what we call The Closed World. In essence, it's taking something that is already around you and giving an additional job.
One of my favorites is the Absurd Alternative Tool. It works by offering exaggerated alternatives to using the product or service to highlight the benefit. But the key is to make the alternative truly absurd. Otherwise viewers can get confused.
Innovation is often associated with triumphant lone inventors. The likes of Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur or Bill Gates are the central characters in this narrative. But all innovators spring out of a specific context. The environments that foster their individual and collective success are very often ‘innovation clusters’: ecosystems that stimulate and nurture the best ideas and attract the brightest talents.
To build innovation muscle, companies must include innovation in their competency models. A competency is a persistent pattern of behavior resulting from a cluster of knowledge, skills, abilities, and motivations. Competency models formalize that behavior and make it persistent. They prescribe the ideal patterns needed for exceptional performance. They help diagnose and evaluate employee performance. It takes a lot of work to develop one, but it's worth it.
Here is a nice example of an innovation competency modeled developed at Central Michigan University through a collaboration of authors. It could be customized to address the specific needs of a company or industry.
The Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto will host the Business Design Challenge from March 25-26, 2011. Teams of graduate students from business and designe schools in the US and Canada will work to solve a case study in the area of health and wellness. The case was developed by Doblin, a Chicago-based innovation strategy firm and the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation (CFI), who will incorporate the solutions developed into delivering improved health and wellness outcomes.
Learning outcomes include:
It’s that time of year again for “Innovation Tools,” the graduate marketing course at the University of Cincinnati. The course teaches how to use Systematic Inventive Thinking, a method based on three ideas. First, most successful innovations over time followed one of five patterns, and these patterns are like the DNA of products that can be re-applied to innovate any product or service. Second, innovation happens when we start with a configuration (the “solution”) and work backwards to the “problem” that it solves. It turns out that humans are better at this than the traditional “problem-to-solution” approach to innovating. Finally, better innovation happens when we start within the world of the problem (the Closed World). Innovations that use elements of the problem or surrounding environment are more novel and surprising. We innovate “inside the box,” not outside.
The Centre for International Business and the International Economy at the University of Pavia is conducting a comprehensive study on how companies leverage innovation as a competitive weapon. It seeks to uncover the different strategic models and managerial practices adopted by the most successful and innovative firms to achieve a competitive advantage.
Companies should avoid the temptation to brand their innovation program. While it seems like a great way to bring excitement and focus to innovation, branding these programs does just the opposite. Employees become cynical, they wait it out, and they go right back to doing what they were doing before.
I liken this advice to that from Edwards Deming on quality. His 14 Key Principles are legendary in the quality movement worldwide. Principle Number 10 says:
"Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force."
The Live Well Collaborative at the University of Cincinnati is an academic-industry innovation incubator for regionally, nationally and internationally prominent firms. The focus of LWC is the aging population. Firms partner with UC to address product or service needs for the 50+ market. The UC students and faculty conduct research and develop ideas incorporating expertise from fields including design, business, engineering, medicine and even anthropology.
The athletic footwear market is maturing, so it will need sustained innovation to keep growing. "Performance footwear" emerged with the ancient Greeks and has since grown to a $50 billion global industry. Innovations such as vulcanized rubber, high tops, arch support, specialized functions, endorsements, and branding have kept the industry vibrant and growing, especially for the dominant three players: Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. Now it's crunch time!
For this month's LAB, we will use the corporate innovation method, S.I.T., to create new athletic shoe concepts. The method works by taking one of the five patterns (subtraction, task unification, division, multiplication, and attribute dependency) and applying it to an existing product or service. This morphs it into a "virtual product," which is an abstract, ambiguous notion with no clear purpose. We then work backwards (Function Follows Form) to find new and useful benefits or markets for the virtual product.
Here are five innovations created by graduate students at the University of Cincinnati as part of their graded requirements in the innovation tools course.
SIT will be conducting its 5th innovation course in New York City from Nov 1-3, 2010. This course is designed for middle management and above, but most anyone can benefit from the learning experience. Participants of previous courses were Presidents, Marketing VPs and Directors, R&D VPs and Directors, Innovation Teams, and Product Directors from both large multinationals and smaller organizations. You can register for it at http://www.sitsite.com/academy/.
People can improve the quality, originality, and elegance of ideas by extensively forecasting the implication of those ideas during the generation phase. Researchers from The University of Oklahoma studied the effect of forecasting on idea evaluation and implementation planning. In the experiment, 141 undergraduate students were asked to formulate advertising campaigns for a new product. These campaigns were evaluated by a panel of judges. Prior to formulating the campaigns, participants were asked to forecast the implication of their ideas and the forecast the effects of a plan for implementing their best idea.
The convergence of three worlds...commercial, technical, and design...creates the optimal conditions for innovation. Now a new university in Finland has done just that. Aalto University is a newly created university from the merger of the Helsinki School of Economics, the University of Art and Design Helsinki and Helsinki University of Technology - all leading and renowned institutions in their respective fields and in their own right.