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.
Students not only learn how to innovate, but they also learn how to link it to marketing strategy. We teach a bit of the Big Picture marketing framework so that students know how to tie innovation and strategy to create an innovation roadmap.
We have 45 graduate students, mostly from our master of science of marketing program. It is a diverse group and includes masters and doctoral candidates from other colleges. From this class, we created eight teams working different projects. The mix of products, services, and government programs should demonstrate that innovation methods can be applied virtually anywhere. Here are the projects:
- Inflight Services: This team will be looking for ways to innovate new products and services to be used for commercial airlines. This could include tangible new configurations within the passenger compartment as well as service models on and off the airplane. Companies like Airbus, GE, and Boeing would be interested in these innovations.
- Cosmetics: This team is tackling the traditional women’s beauty category of products to include lipstick, foundation, and the myriad of accessories. Innovations from this team could address new types of makeup products, new versions of current products, and new ways to use or apply makeup. Companies like L’Oreal would be potential clients for this group.
- City of Cincinnati: This team is trying to innovate the very important service of public sanitation and waste collection. This team was formed at the request of the public works department at the City of Cincinnati. I will be looking for innovative waste collection, disposal, and treatment concepts. Here is an example.
- Pharmaceuticals: This team is a collection of students in other graduate and doctoral programs at the University. Their task is to apply Systematic Inventive Thinking to the pharmaceutical world and may include delivery methods (pills, etc), processes, and discovery.
- UC Distance Learning: This team has the challenging assignment of applying SIT to traditional online distance learning programs. Their client is…me! I am expecting this group to invent completely new-to-the-world innovations around distance learning that we can apply…and be the first at…at the University of Cincinnati.
- Marketing Research: This team is working for a client in the area to create new methods and models of marketing research. This industry (like most) has a lot of “fixedness” about how their profession works, and I am expecting the team to break the mold and develop completely new and innovative ways to use marketing research and its resources.
- Vicks Humidifier: This team is innovating the humidifier category for a client at Procter & Gamble.
- Cintas: This team has the assignment of creating new service models for Cintas, a leader in the uniform, fire protection, and other services delivered to corporations.
The output from each team is a “Dream Catalog,” a hypothetical portrayal of the best of the ideas in graphic form. This is a technique we teach so that students know how to bring innovations to life and align an organization to gain support.
As in past courses, the final exam is a complete and comprehensive demonstration of “innovating on demand.” Students are given a product that they do not know ahead of time. They have three hours to use each of the five SIT patterns correctly to create completely new-to-the-world innovations in that category. You can see the output of these final exams and the dream catalogs at our innovation wiki.