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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Accelerating Innovation

by Andrea Meyer

Accelerating InnovationPoint: Accelerate innovation by finding an analogous solution from a different industry.

Story: Henry Ford's assembly line is often touted as a breakthrough innovation. What's less known is that Ford got the idea by seeing the "disassembly line" process of butchering hogs at the Philip Armour meatpacking company in Chicago. Similar techniques were also already being used by Campbell's to automate canned food production.

Adopting ideas from other industries and applying them to your own industry is a powerful and proven source of innovation. But what if you don't know which industry to examine, or where to look for that potentially breakthrough idea? Solutions may arrive serendipitously as you visit companies and read widely, but how do you accelerate the process and make it systematic?

One exciting solution I came across was described by Jim Todhunter, CTO of Invention Machine at the Open Innovation Summit last month. Invention Machine's Goldfire software uses semantic technology to access a vast collection of scientific principles, patents, articles and Deep Web technical websites (meaning you can't find them via standard search engines like Google). Simply put, Goldfire automates searching for analogous solutions in different industries. I talked with Todhunter to learn more about how Goldfire, an innovation platform, can help a company innovate systematically.

Todhunter described how a manufacturer of plumbing fixtures used adjacencies to remove lead from their plumbing fixtures. Companies have long known the dangers of lead and have substituted copper pipes for lead ones and stopped using lead-based solders for plumbing. But most of us don't realize that fixtures like brass faucets also contain lead in the brass alloys. The reason faucets contain lead is because lead makes the brass machinable. A couple percent of lead mixed into the copper and zinc of the brass makes it easier to mill attractive surfaces, drill clean holes, and create smooth pipe threads on the brass. In short, the lead helps a faucet manufacturer create attractive, high-quality faucets. But over time, some of the lead in the brass leaches out into the water that flows through the faucet, which poses some health risks.

The faucet maker realized they needed help to solve the problem and turned to Invention Machine's Goldfire software to find feasible external innovations. "Goldfire helped them in two ways, Todhunter said, "in terms of what are called adjacencies and proof points."

Adjacencies involve finding potentially analogous innovations found in other industries. For example, faucet makers aren't the only companies worried about producing quality products from hard-to-machine materials. "On the adjacency side, when the company started to examine the problem with Goldfire, they were able to discover that there were technologies and methods used in other industries that could obviate the need for lead in brass," Todhunter said. In particular, the manufacturer discovered that woodworkers have clever techniques for milling wood. These techniques could be adapted to machining lead-free brass.

The second help to accelerate the innovative solution is called proof points - tangible examples that prove a solution is commercially feasible. In terms of proof points (i.e., "are there ways to do this?"), the manufacturer was able to discover a very clear proof point through Goldfire: someone had already discovered a way to make millable lead-free brass. "The client didn't even have to go invent this material - they were able to find a supplier," Todhunter said. "As a result, the faucet maker accelerated their time to market for delivery on this kind of concept tremendously because this discovery created a partnering opportunity."

Action:
  • Clearly define the problem at hand (e.g., lead-free brass AND attractive, high-quality machined features)

  • Survey adjacent industries or applications for ideas that overcome the problem (e.g., tricks for milling a hard-to-mill material)

  • Survey external innovations and suppliers for proof points (e.g., a commercially available, lead-free brass alloy that is machinable)

  • Combine externally-found adjacencies and proof points (i.e., use the best adjacent methods on the best proof point solutions)

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Andrea MeyerAuthor of more than 450 company case studies and contributor to 28 books, Andrea Meyer writes & ghostwrites about innovation, IT and strategy for clients like MIT, Harvard Business School, McKinsey & Co., and Forrester Research. Follow her at www.workingknowledge.com/blog and twitter.com/AndreaMeyer.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Protecting Open Innovation from Corporate Antibodies

by Andrea Meyer

Protecting Open Innovation from Corporate AntibodiesPoint: By picking where open innovation occurs and what it communicates to the rest of the organization, innovators can protect open innovation efforts from corporate antibodies

Story: All organizations, especially large ones, have an "immune system" in the form of an army of fine-tuned antibodies that root out risk and threats to the smooth-operating status quo. These antibodies help drive efficiencies, attack waste, promote uniform performance, and prevent infection for foreign ideas.

That's good for efficiency, but innovation requires taking risks and changing the status quo to create more value. That makes innovation a prime target for the cleansing action of antibodies. Open innovation (OI) is especially prone to antibody response because it involves foreign ideas. At the December 2009 Open Innovation Summit, presenters from HP, CSC, Clorox, and Shell described how they avoided corporate antibodies at their companies. The techniques addressed who participates in open innovation, where they operate, and what they communicate so that innovation succeeds and doesn't get killed by antibodies.

For example, Russ Conser, Manager of EP GameChanger at Shell, offered a good metaphor for where to do open innovation. He showed an image of a young girl building a castle in a sandbox under a large umbrella. The sandbox metaphor works on two levels. It provides a protected place for innovation to do its value-creating experimental work. The sandbox also is the container for the innovator's gritty sand, protecting the larger organization from the risky rough ideas.

Phil McKinney, SVP and CTO at Hewlett Packard, concurred - HP put its OI in a quiet corner of the Personal System Group. The sandbox creates an antibody-free zone for innovation work and protects the larger organization from the early-stage risks of innovation.

When communicating about open innovation efforts, innovators' communications can either attract attacking antibodies or help pacify them. What innovators and their representatives say determines how antibodies react. For example, Lemuel Lasher, Chief Innovation Officer at CSC, cautioned that innovators shouldn't be too quiet or too secretive, especially when the facts are on the side of the innovator. Innovators should be provocative as long as they don't provoke too strong an immune reaction.

Ed Rinker, Manager of the Technology Brokerage Group at Clorox, used hard-hitting facts to convince his organization to deviate from its brand strategy. Consumer trends toward gentle green and natural products seemed antithetical to the Clorox brand of strong cleansers. Rinker used facts like marketing tests that proved consumers preferred GreenWorks with the Clorox name on the product to convince the antibody nay-sayers.

The most-cited communications recommendation, used at HP and Shell's programs, is communicating what the innovators did and not what they are doing or planning to do. This focuses the discussion on the new products, new customers, new revenues, and new profits generated by innovation, rather than on the potentially risky or disruptive projects underway by the innovators. Shell's Gamechanger Group continues to thrive after 12 years inside the billion-dollar giant because they show results.

Action:
  • Find an 'air-cover' executive who provides the umbrella of protection for innovation
  • Use a quiet corner or sandbox where innovators can generate results without interference or creating risk
  • Describe the good projects you did, not the risky projects you're doing or plan to do
  • Live on the boundary between sufficiently provocative and excessively provoking



Andrea MeyerAuthor of more than 450 company case studies and contributor to 28 books, Andrea Meyer writes & ghostwrites about innovation, IT and strategy for clients like MIT, Harvard Business School, McKinsey & Co., and Forrester Research. Follow her at www.workingknowledge.com/blog and twitter.com/AndreaMeyer.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Arguing for Innovation - Patrick Lencioni

by Andrea Meyer

Patrick LencioniPoint: Teams that create the best innovations know how to disagree about ideas without interpreting the disagreement as a personal affront.

Story: "I feel good when I see that engineering, advertising and manufacturing are really surfacing and talking about their differences," said the VP of Technology at a successful $100 million firm. "It's my job to keep the dialectic alive."

When we see companies moving swiftly, anticipating changes in the marketplace and developing new products or services to meet the change, we're tempted to think of the company as moving in harmonious agreement toward that new product or service.

But the surprising fact is that companies that innovate the fastest are actually those that invite debate over ideas. It's not a destructive conflict, but an airing of different views on a topic. Whereas conflict based on personality differences is destructive, healthy conflict focuses on refining a proposed idea. Healthy conflict gets a team out of group-think. It tests and challenges assumptions. Team members share different points of view. As Patrick Lencioni, speaking at the 2009 World Business Forum said, "productive debate over issues is good for a team." Disagreeing on issues make things uncomfortable but it builds clarity. "If you don't have conflict on a team, you don't get commitment," Lencioni said. "If people don't weigh in, they won't buy in." When team members challenge assumptions and point out the flaws of an idea, they improve the idea; the end result is a more robust idea.

To ensure that the conflict stays at the level of idea, not personal attack, Lencioni advises using a team assessment. Using an instrument like Myers-Briggs, team members learn their own communication styles and the styles of others. Knowing each other's personality style helps avoid personal conflict. If you know that Joe is generally quiet or that Jane always bulldozes in, you're less likely to take offense at what is actually that person's communication style.

Action:
  • Don't suppress or circumvent conflict - the best ideas are forged during the "working out" of such conflicts.

  • Give the team an assessment tool like Myers-Briggs to help member understand each other's styles communication styles, strengths and weaknesses

  • Encourage healthy debate. Peter Drucker recounted how Alfred P. Sloan, legendary CEO of GM, handled this:

"Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here," Sloan said. After everyone around the table nodded affirmatively, Sloan continued: "Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about."



Andrea MeyerAuthor of more than 450 company case studies and contributor to 28 books, Andrea Meyer writes & ghostwrites about innovation, IT and strategy for clients like MIT, Harvard Business School, McKinsey & Co., and Forrester Research. Follow her at www.workingknowledge.com/blog and twitter.com/AndreaMeyer.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Visible and Invisible Innovation - Cirque Du Soleil

by Andrea Meyer

Point: Behind-the-scenes innovation makes visible innovation shine

Story: I saw the premiere of KOOZA in Denver last week. Actually, it was my second time seeing KOOZA (the first was in Boston), and it was even better the second time.

Cirque du Soleil Wheel of DeathThe first time, I was mesmerized by the overt innovations in the show, like the "Wheel of Death." Imagine two connected hamster-wheels, each of which spin while both together revolve vertically as well. Suspended high above the stage, the performers run, dive and somersault inside the wheels. And just when it looks like the act couldn't get any more thrilling, the performers switch to running on the outside of the wheel.

My second time at KOOZA, I sat in the second row, so I had a closer look at the costumes. Even from the very last row (where I sat the first time), I remember the dazzling shine of the juggler's suit. The second time, I had a chance to see the intricacy of all the costumes, which led me to wonder about the R&D that must go into them. The costumes hug tight body lines yet flex with all the contortions the performers make.

How does Cirque Du Soleil create these amazing costumes? First, Cirque hires talent: specialists in textile design, lace-making, shoemaking, wig-making, patternmaking, costume-making and millinery all work together to combine their knowledge.

Cirque du Soleil CostumesSecond, they actively seek out new materials which can be used. A "technological watch team" tracks global advances in adhesives, batteries and miniature lights to see how they could be incorporated into costumes. The team looks beyond boundaries of standard textiles to encompass fields such as avionics, plumbing, water sports and even dentistry for components that achieve the imagined task.

Third, the artisans of Cirque Du Soleil's Costume workshop custom-make all the costumes, dyeing the colors in-house or painting costumes directly. They mold each individual hat on a plaster model of the artist's head for a perfect fit. They consider comfort during these very athletic shows: the wig-making team, for example, builds wigs one hair at a time to achieve optimal ventilation. The attention to detail is staggering: the Bungee costumes used in Cirque's Mystre each have over 2,000 hand-glued sequins. The juggler's suit in KOOZA consists entirely of mirrored squares, like a disco ball.

Whether visible or hidden, Cirque du Soleil innovations shine.

Action:
  • Hire specialists in multiple related disciplines to work as a creative team

  • Explore beyond the expected. Cirque's costume team doesn't just use fabrics but expands into composite materials such as silicone, latex, plastics, foams and urethane

  • Let team members be hands-on to devise ways to make an innovation work

Further information:

The show has moved on to Santa Monica, CA in October and will be in Irvine, CA in January. Info on future cities is here.



Andrea MeyerAuthor of more than 450 company case studies and contributor to 28 books, Andrea Meyer writes & ghostwrites about innovation, IT and strategy for clients like MIT, Harvard Business School, McKinsey & Co., and Forrester Research. Follow her at www.workingknowledge.com/blog and twitter.com/AndreaMeyer.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Innovating on a Tighter Budget

by Andrea Meyer


Point: Innovation doesn't have to be expensive


Story:

Current surveys indicate that more companies are reducing innovation budgets this year, but the good news is that innovation doesn't have to be expensive. Here are two stories that show how to innovate inexpensively:

J.B. Hunt was just a truck driver in the 1940s when he saw that rice mills in Arkansas were disposing of rice hulls by burning them. Rice hulls are the fluffy tough fibrous shells removed to create white rice. The waste hulls gave Hunt an idea: he contracted with the mills to haul away their rice hulls, and then he sold the hulls to poultry farmers as chicken-house litter. After Hunt's revelation of the potential value of rice hulls, others found additional innovative uses for the material: pillow stuffing, high-fiber additives for pet food, natural building insulation, filler for injection-molded plastics, and using rice hulls to improve apple juice extraction.

Similarly, old rubber tires are being ground up and made into roads and shoes. And clothing & outdoor gear maker Patagonia asks customers to bring in their worn-out Capiline® clothing (a polyester fabric) rather than throwing it away. Patagonia has devised a way to break down the discarded fabric into plastic chips and then re-spin them into new synthetic yarn. Given the increasing concerns about proper waste disposal, waste products provide attractive opportunities as no-cost or low-cost sources of innovative raw materials.

In addition to innovating with waste products, companies can leverage fallow innovations. During the early 1980s, IBM Corp was spending at least a hundred times more on R&D than Apple Inc. But upstart Apple found a way to leverage some new underutilized technologies (the computer mouse, high-resolution display monitors, the power of the 32-bit microprocessor and the graphical user interface) to create the Lisa and then the Macintosh. What existing technologies could you put to use in new ways?

Action:

  • Survey existing supplies of materials and streams of byproducts

  • Look for materials that are underutilized or are discarded

  • Consider how those materials might be recombined, repurposed, or refurbished for other, valuable applications

For More Information:

Patagonia's Common Threads Garment Recycling Program

"Innovation to the Core" by Peter Skarzynski and Rowan Gibson



Author of more than 450 company case studies and contributor to 28 books, Andrea Meyer writes & ghostwrites about innovation, IT and strategy for clients like MIT, Harvard Business School, McKinsey & Co., and Forrester Research. Follow her at www.workingknowledge.com/blog and twitter.com/AndreaMeyer.

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