Thursday, October 23, 2008

Creating serial innovation.

One reason why the UCSD’s CONNECT program has developed so many new ideas and products is because it encourages interaction between creative scientists and business entrepreneurs as they hunt together for scientific answers to urgent problems. Successful innovators never lose track of what they’re doing; bringing together a concept of what's needed in the marketplace with what's possible in the world of science.

Turning a company into a serial innovator is like a new novelist, still flush with a best seller, who now needs to write that second novel. Hundreds of local technology companies are established businesses today thanks to CONNECT and now need to jump-start another product, a new story. In older, more traditional industries, the innovation crisis is even more serious, though less visible. Merger mania among the big drug companies is driven by the shortage of new Rx products ready to come to market - at a time when many of their most profitable products will soon run out of the patent protection that keeps their prices high. And although the packaged goods giants are rushing to market with thousands of new product ideas, 90% of them fail within 12 months of launch. We still don't know enough about how good ideas happen or where they can lead.

In 1918, an assistant US Postmaster General named James Blaksee put together a fleet of parcel-post trucks to pick up farm produce from designated spots along the country’s main roads and ship it directly to town. However, parcel post soon turned out to be something entirely different than what was originally envisioned - a means not to move farm goods to town but to move consumer goods from town to country. The nature of revolutions is such that you never really know what they mean until they’re over.

Creative guru, Roger von Oech, suggests that we question ourselves as we approach problems so we don’t miss the obvious. He recommends:

(1) Documenting observations without jumping to conclusions.

(2) Asking why, over and over again, to get to the root of the problem. He notes that problems aren't always well expressed; they’re often expressed as solutions and/or wishes instead.

(3) Circling the problem and describing its impact from multiple perspectives.

One of the best ways to promote creativity is through informality. What starts with an accidental discussion over a relaxed cup of coffee often has a surprising outcome. Companies should create more opportunities for these random and relaxed encounters. Today, more and more of these informal chats take place remotely via the internet.

People need to experience something within themselves that will spark and sustain their effort to innovate - and when they experience this "something," they’ll be self-sustaining. They’ll think about their projects in the shower, in the car, and in their dreams. They’ll need very little management from the outside as their intrinsic motivation will flourish. Inside out will rule the day - not outside in. People will innovate not because they’re told to, but because they want to.

Rolf Smith reminds us that, “Being creative is when you think about your thinking. Being innovative is when you act on your ideas.”

Great companies succeed because of their ability to shape and leverage multiple streams of innovation. These include incremental innovation (e.g., thinner mechanical watches), architectural innovation (e.g., SMH’s Swatch watch), and discontinuous innovation (e.g., Seiko’s quartz movement substituting for mechanical movements). They take advantage of brand new markets for existing technologies while proactively introducing substitute products. At the same time, they create new markets and competitive rules by cannibalizing existing products.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning," according to Albert Einstein

1 comment:

cukie6 said...

Very important and helpful!