Innovation in Practice Blog

November 27, 2008

Patent’s (Value) Pending

The Front End of Innovation blog reports 70% of respondents to their recent survey believe eliminating business method patents will hurt innovation and its practices. The premise is that innovators and entrepreneurs are less likely to innovate if they know they cannot get patent protection. The result surprises me, and it make me wonder what the other 30% were thinking. The issue stems from whether an inventor can patent an abstract process, something that involves nothing more than thoughts. The courts are saying no. A recent ruling on a business method patent by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said that it was not tied to a machine or apparatus, nor did it transform a particular article into a different state or thing. It did meet the standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court for patentability. Many industries that are not "machine-based" like software makers, Internet companies, and investment houses, are concerned.
November 22, 2008

The CMO’s Guide to Driving Innovation

Forrester Research, Inc. has released a new publication titled "The CMO's Guide to Driving Innovation." Cindy Commander, analyst at Forrester, has outlined best practices for chief marketing officers to drive innovation across the organization. As part of the research, she interviewed senior marketers from BMW, Equifax, GE, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, LeapFrog, and Samsung Electronics America. In addition she spoke with consultants from Innovaro, InnovationLabs, and PRTM. For companies seeking insights about innovation methods and programs, this report is essential.
October 31, 2008

The LAB: Innovating a Recruiting Process with Subtraction (October 2008)

Do systematic methods of innovation work on services and processes? This may be the most common question from corporate executives who want to learn innovation methods. This month's LAB will focus on a familiar corporate process: employee recruiting. The tool we'll use is Subtraction. To use Subtraction, we make a list of the components. With a process or service, the components are simply the steps to deliver the process or service. We remove a step one at a time to create the Virtual Product/Process. Working backwards with Function Follows Form, we innovate what the potential value or benefits would be without the component. What would the new process do? Who would use it? Why would they use it?
October 26, 2008

Lazy Innovation

Katie Konrath at getFreshMinds.com tackles a common mistake in innovation - packing new features into existing products as a way to innovate - a problem I call "feature creep." Her main point: people pack products to the brim with features to be more innovative. Many believe this is the only way to innovate. Katie believes feature packing is a lazy way to innovate. Why does this happen? The major culprit is too much reliance and emphasis on the traditional PROBLEM-TO-SOLUTION approach to innovation. We spot a problem in an existing product, service, or situation, and then we "solution seek" a way to fix it. We usually end up adding additional features to the existing product, service, or situation.
October 13, 2008

TiVoing Dead People

George Orwell died January 21, 1950 at the age of 46. He is considered one of the great all-time fiction writers with works like Animal House and Nineteen Eighty Four. What if he were alive today? What would he say, and what would he write about? What if he blogged? What would the conversation be within the blogosphere? Much to my surprise, George Orwell is blogging...sort of. The Orwell Prize, Britain’s pre-eminent prize for political writing, is publishing George Orwell’s diaries as a blog. Orwell’s domestic and political diaries from August 1938 until October 1942 are being posted in real-time, exactly 70 years after the entries were written. The diaries are exactly as Orwell wrote them.
September 28, 2008

The LAB: Innovating the iPhone with Attribute Dependency (September 2008)

Here are ten innovations for the iPhone that I would love to see. I created these using the Attribute Dependency tool. It is the most powerful of the five tools of Systematic Inventive Thinking, but also the most difficult to learn. To use Attribute Dependency, we start by making two lists. The first is a list of internal attributes of the iPhone. The second is a list of external attributes - those factors that are not under the control of the manufacturer (Apple, in this case), but that vary in the context of how the product or service is used. Then we create a matrix with the internal and external attributes on one axis, and the internal attributes only on the other axis. This matrix forces the combinations of internal-to-internal and internal-to-external attributes that we will use to innovate.
September 14, 2008

Sooner, Better, Bolder

Innovation is a team sport, and no one describes this better than Professor Keith Sawyer in his book, Group Genius. Keith's blog, Creativity & Innovation, highlights one of the most significant aspects of successful innovation - that groups of people are likely to be more creative than individuals working on their own. His latest example of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios illustrates this well. “Creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working together to solve a great many problems…A movie contains literally tens of thousands of ideas.” (Ed Catmull, Pesident of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios) Why are groups so effective? What is the optimal group size? What is the best way to leverage the group dynamic? As a practitioner and teacher of innovation, I have witnessed group innovation many times in many settings, and I observe three factors that might explain why teams outperform individuals at innovating.
September 10, 2008

Complementary Innovation

Companies are enamored with chasing "white space opportunities." White space is the nickname for new, undiscovered growth segments. It spins the notion that opportunity lies just ahead of us. Telling colleagues you are working on white space opportunities suggests you are doing really important stuff. It is the ultimate growth endeavor, the risk worth taking. White space will save the day. I'm not so sure. I have two problems with white space. It is neither white, nor a space.
August 31, 2008

The LAB: Multiplication (August 2008)

The Multiplication tool is one of the five powerful thinking tools taught to me by the folks at Systematic Inventive Thinking. I like this tool because it is simple and yields great results. Even children can learn it. Multiplication works by taking a component of the product, service, strategy, etc, and then making one or several copies of it. But the copy must be changed in some way from the original component. The original component is still intact, unchanged. Now using Function Follows Form, we work backwards to take this hypothetical solution and find a problem that it solves.
August 19, 2008

Innovation Allocation

marketing or R&D? It's a trick question, of course. But it's a useful question for Fortune 100 companies to consider. Has your company made a conscious choice of how it "allocates" this leadership role? Allocating innovation to one group over the other will yield a different business result. The approaches to innovation by marketing are dramatically different than approaches to innovation by R&D, so the outputs will be dramatically different. The question becomes: which group will outperform the other? Technical-driven innovation or marketing-driven innovation?
August 19, 2008

Innovation Allocation

marketing or R&D? It's a trick question, of course. But it's a useful question for Fortune 100 companies to consider. Has your company made a conscious choice of how it "allocates" this leadership role? Allocating innovation to one group over the other will yield a different business result. The approaches to innovation by marketing are dramatically different than approaches to innovation by R&D, so the outputs will be dramatically different. The question becomes: which group will outperform the other? Technical-driven innovation or marketing-driven innovation?
August 2, 2008

Ideation vs. Prioritization

Ideation or prioritization? Imagine you had a choice of being really good at one, but not the other. You could be a master at creating ideas, or you could excel at selecting winning ideas, but not both. Which would you choose? Two things intrigue me about this trade-off. First, companies spend too much time and energy prioritizing ideas and not enough on creating ideas. Second, the innovation space seems to demand a completely different set of tools and techniques for selecting ideas than the tools and techniques used for making other business decisions. In reality, there is no difference. The tools used to make everyday business decisions should be the same ones used to prioritize ideas.
July 26, 2008

The LAB: Task Unification on a Guitar (July 2008)

The suggestion from one of our readers (thanks, Erez!) is to use Task Unification on a guitar. His comment suggests that players have trouble keeping their guitars in tune when playing in a band. They need to reduce the time it takes to re-tune between songs. I liked this assignment because I play guitar, and I have a small collection of electric guitars, an acoustic guitar, and a banjo. This will be the first time I have applied a systematic innovation process to invent new guitar concepts. Let's see what happens.
July 23, 2008

The LAB: Demonstration of Task Unification (July 2008)

Welcome to The LAB. This month, we will focus on Task Unification. This tool is one of five templates in the S.I.T. method of innovation. The tool works by taking a component of a product or service and assigning it an additional task or job. What I need from one of our readers is: a suggested product or service. I will use this suggestion to apply Task Unification to innovate new embodiments. Please post your suggestion in Comments below. Innovation results will be posted shortly!
July 23, 2008

The LAB: Innovation in Real Time

The readership of this blog has steadily grown, and it's time to start demonstrating how innovation works...in real time. Once each month, I will post The LAB. This is where we will use a specified innovation tool on a product or service that is suggested by one of you, the readers of this blog. Once I have received a suggested product or service (posted in Comments) from one of you, I will use a specified innovation tool to create a new-to-the-world innovation. I will show results in a subsequent post with a description of how I applied the tool and used each step of the process to create the innovation. In some LABS, I may be able to include a drawing or rendering of the innovation. For those people interested in the innovation space, my firm belief is that we need to make a regular habit of innovating so we can perfect the craft and set the pace for others. It is not enough to talk about and read about innovation. It is essential that we all do it.
July 13, 2008

Innovation Stigma

There is an inherent bias against innovation despite the enormous value it holds for organizations. Corporate executives know that innovation is the only true long term growth engine for their firm. Yet innovation carries with it a certain stigma, a perception in the minds of executives, that it is "soft" and frivolous compared to other hard core business activities like productivity, quality, and demand generation. This stigma deters executives from taking risk and investing in serious innovation initiatives.
June 28, 2008

Innovation Telltale

If you want innovation in your company, hire innovative people. But how do you know if someone is innovative? What do you look for? What telltale evidence might suggest that a person has superior innovation skills? What is the telltale of innovation? I think I know the answer. But, just as with the youth hockey experience, I will need to collect data to be sure. My hypothesis is mental searching speed, an idea that Yoni Stern at S.I.T. taught me. This is a measure of how well you "Google" your own mind and memory for information or experiences when given a task. The task in the case of innovation is to take a Virtual Product (a mental abstract produced through the S.I.T. method), and mentally search your mind to find many productive, innovative uses for it. Whoever can find the most ideas for a given task is more innovative in my view. They make the team. My task now is to select a different team - a team of research collaborators to find and validate the Innovation Telltale, something the Fortune 100 will surely value.
June 20, 2008

M&A Innovation

Relying on mergers and acquisitions for growth sends a signal that you don't know how to innovate or how to manage it. M&A has other problems, too. Companies tend to overpay which actually destroys shareholder value. At best, firms end up paying full value, neither better or worse off financially. The firm grows in size, not value, and pays in the form of distraction. What if you could use the tools and processes of innovation in mergers and acquisitions? How could it help? Would you select acquisition targets better? Could it help understand the valuation better so you get a better deal? Might it help you implement better? I believe innovation techniques could be applied to all three. Here is one example: targeting - deciding who to buy.
June 7, 2008

Social Innovation

Web 2.0 social tools are swelling all around us, and the Fortune 100 are embracing them for two purposes - managing and engaging the internal employee base and managing and engaging the external customer base. Wikis, blogs, mashups, and social networks will improve productivity, connectivity, knowledge transfer, and ultimately profitability if deployed correctly. What about innovation? Can the Web 2.0 environment increase, enable, accelerate, and deepen innovation within companies? I am impressed with the emergence of tools such as Wridea and others that have taken on the challenge. But I have yet to see one that works effectively. I am trying to figure out why. Are these applications using the wrong innovation tool or process? Do they have an effective innovation process, but deploy it incorrectly? Or, are people not using the application in an optimal way?
May 18, 2008

Innovation Muscle

The best Fortune 100 companies see innovation as an ongoing capabilty, not a one time event. These companies work hard to build muscle around this capability so they can deploy it when they need it, where they need it, tackling their hardest problems. Companies do this to keep up with the ever changing landscape both inside and outside the firm. What does it mean to build innovation muscle? I think of it as the number of people trained, the frequency of using an innovation method, and the percentage of internal departments that have an innovation capabilty. Call it an Innovation Muscle Index: N (number of trained employees) x F (number of formal ideation events per year using a method) x P (percent of company departments with at least one employee trained in an effective innovation method. IMI = N x F x P