Many products are invented accidentally. Serendipity led to the microwave oven, corn flakes, Teflon®, penicillin, fireworks, Viagra®, chocolate chip cookies, and the most famous of all accidents...the Post-it® note. The problem with serendipity is it's not predictable. It is not an innovation method one would count on for corporate growth. But there is value in serendipity if you can unlock its hidden secrets. How?
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.
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 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:
Companies can reduce the risk of adopting new innovation methods by testing them first. A short, pilot program that addresses a specific product or service line helps you understand whether a new method is right for your company. Pilot programs help keep your costs in line, and they help you reduce resistance to adopting new methods.
To organize an innovation pilot program:
Companies that struggle with innovation often make up for it by adding features to existing products. They succumb to "feature creep" - the gradual and continuous addition of features and functions though nothing is truly new. While it may look improved, the added features make your product more complex, difficult to use, and more costly to produce. Over time, your core customers abandon you.
Here is an example - the Numi toilet by Kohler. At $6400, it is promoted as the top-of-the-line toilet with lots of high-tech bells and whistles:
In 1817, Sir William Cubitt innovated the treadmill as a method of reforming prison convicts who got out of line. Today, that "torture" continues. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, fifty million Americans use a treadmill. Sales of treadmills are $1 billion annually of the total $4 billion fitness equipment industry. For this month's LAB, we will use the corporate innovation method, S.I.T., to create new-to-the-world concepts for the ubiquitous treadmill.
S.I.T. works by taking one of 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.
My friend and former J&J colleague, Stuart Morgan, is one of those rare people who can flex between the highest level of abstraction and the smallest details of any particular problem. He is a whiz, and it is hard to keep up with him. For innovators and innovation managers, this is a skill worth developing and adding to your company's innovation competency model. Here's why.
To be most successful at applying an innovation method, a team needs to determine the right level of granularity over the problem. Selecting different levels of innovation resolution will yield completely different innovative opportunities. Changing the resolution could yield interesting new adjacent market spaces. The level you target will also affect how you use an innovation method like S.I.T..
Here is an example. Suppose you designed and manufactured commercial aircraft. The natural starting point would be to innovate an airplane. At this level of resolution, our initial component list might be:
This month's LAB features a former student of mine, Ryan Rosensweig. Ryan is the first business-design hybrid from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. He earned his master’s degree in design after completing his bachelor’s degree in marketing, sustainable urban engineering, and interdisciplinary design innovation. As the graduate assistant for Associate Dean Craig M. Vogel, of DAAP’s Center for Design Research and Innovation, Ryan researched educational models for interdisciplinary innovation, the interaction between design methodologies and business strategy, as well as product and service innovations for the over-age-50 population. Take a look at his portfolio here.
I had the pleasure of teaching Ryan how to use Systematic Inventive Thinking when he attended my Innovation Tools graduate course. The final exam required students to correctly apply all five techniques of S.I.T. to an item assigned to them randomly.
Here are selected examples from Ryan's final exam - innovating a couch!
I'm looking forward to teaching “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.