You may be surprised to find many of your products and services conform to the five innovation patterns of Systematic Inventive Thinking. If so, it means your employees are predisposed to use innovation patterns when developing new products. Like many innovators, they are using patterns probably without realizing it. Given this predisposition to using innovation templates, a company can realize huge gains in innovation effectiveness by taking the next step.
Take the case of a large industrial company in the energy sector. It leads the industry producing a product that is relatively simple in design but incredibly challenging to produce. Despite its strong reputation and market success, the company worries it is not innovative. Yet when I reviewed its project pipeline, I spotted concepts with each of the five patterns of S.I.T. (Subtraction, Task Unification, Multiplication, Attribute Dependency, and Division). The teams did not use S.I.T. in the classic way (apply templates and work backwards using “Function Follows Form” to find a potential benefit). Instead, they used trial and error, experimentation, and good old fashioned tinkering. Their innovations embody the templates nevertheless.
These teams are more innovative than they think. They are one short step away from applying S.I.T.. They already have these patterns inside them, so now it’s just a matter of extracting them and putting them to use in a more disciplined way. Using S.I.T. on their products and processes will force new combinations and concepts that they would not have thought of otherwise. The method will “bootstrap” their innovation performance to a new high level.
If your company is predisposed to innovation, take these steps to ramp up performance:
1. Establish an Innovation Competency Model: Innovation is a skill, not a gift. It can be learned the same as any other skill. Take your innovation methodology and turn it into a set of behaviors that are clear and concise. The model gives employees a well-defined road map of how to go from good to great.
2. Train, Train, Train: Take the innovation competency model and convert it into a training program. Teach the basic skills to a broad base of employees. Offer advanced modules to those employees who are motivated to practice and perfect the techniques. Long-term, move to a “train-the-trainer” model so that you have a permanent, in-house capability teach innovation.
3. Form Innovation Dream Teams: Innovation is a team sport. Teams that are well-selected and diverse will perform at the highest levels. Teams should have 12 to 16 members that are cross-functional from three areas: commercial (marketing), technical (engineering, R&D, etc), and customer-oriented (sales, customer service, packaging, etc).
4. Pilot the New Approach: Short pilot programs let a company see how well a new innovation approach fits the culture. Use the pilot to learn how the new approach can be integrated into other key business processes like strategic planning and forecasting. Long term success comes from using structured innovation methods as a routine part of the regular business cycle. Don’t make it a separate activity owned by one department, divorced from the rest of the business.
5. Exercise Innovation Resolution: Deploy innovation workshops to tackle various levels of “resolution.” For example, if you are in the automotive sector, use S.I.T. at every level of the product. Start with the core product: the car. Then zoom down to subsystems (engines, powertrain, interior). Next, zoom down to components (windshield wipers, steering wheel, seats). Finally, zoom out to the level of where cars are used (highway driving, traffic systems, interactions with other vehicles, parking, and so forth).