Friday, December 16, 2011

Be method agnostic - for your innovation goals.

Every organization develops certain liking for methods to innovate over a time. I am using ‘Methods” as a broad term – starting from how the R&D division is structured, what are their goals & objectives, who they are answerable to,  processes in place, further extending to the tools and techniques the organization has been using till date.

By being methodical, the organization is trying to bring in some sort of certainty; however there is also a danger of settling in, and getting satisfied with what you come up with. Remember the whole purpose is to innovate, which by all purpose means to come up with something which is new and beneficial - then why not apply the same philosophy for the ecosystem around getting the innovation done?

How about structuring R&D division where every employee, irrespective of his job profile - has to spend say x months in every y years at R&D / Innovation division of the organization. Let’s assume this makes it 20% of your R&D staff is always a rotated staff from other non R&D divisions. While on rotation, you may not produce great results, but just the feel and experience of being in the middle of R&D will continue to add value to your productivity and also to the Organizational Research even after you are back at your usual job profile.

How about making an R&D division have P&L of its own?

How about giving the freedom to use any tool or technique? I know a company where they can’t use 6 thinking hats because they have their own in house methods to brainstorm, no harm in using own methods but why ban other methods.

Collaborative innovation is one of the ways to become method agnostic, because you won’t know what methods the innovator has used, or will not use, most importantly you won’t care about the methods. Other way around is also true, if you truly try to become method agnostic, you are actually becoming more collaborative, more open, because now an accountant also has a chance to be in the research lab, you are more open because you no longer hide your real revenue truly from new research and innovations, you are more open because now an employee is allowed to install a freeware and try out new things in her free time. 

Trying different things and being method agnostic will breed diversity, which has been shown to be the best way to get innovative results.

Not to forget that being method agnostic does not mean getting rid of methods, it mostly means that you are open, collaborative and flexible – basically you are innovative in doing innovation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

How co-creation initiative benefits when these 2 teams talk to each other.

Team 1 – The marketing team, who often arranges customer connect campaigns or competitions, for innovation or otherwise, primarily focused towards brand awareness and to create some buzz.

Team 2 - The innovation team, who is focused internally or at the most with extended network of vendors and consultants working towards finding the next big idea for the company.

There is a tremendous opportunity when these two teams talk to each other.

Let’s explore WHY and HOW you can take some action.

WHY this is an opportunity

The people who opted in or showed some interest for any of your customer connect campaigns or competitions are your low hanging opportunity for co-creation. These are the people who are more likely to know about your products and are already volunteering to be part of your initiatives at some level. These participants are your potential co-creators and you must find a way to nurture this relationship on an ongoing basis.

Also when it comes to a competition, we usually tend to focus on the winners, quite ok, but never forget that everyone who participated has potential which you can explore. These participants in any innovation competition, even if they are not selected - have shown interest in the subject and have some relevant expertise. Your cost of engaging them will be far less than doing it afresh and the results you would get would also be better than finding new set of collaborators often.

HOW you can leverage this
  1. Logical first step is to identify the possible internal collaborations and initiate a dialogue. That is - which company initiatives have a potential to be your team 1, 2 … n for this cross leverage.
  2. Link up your one off or annual events; - not from a campaign, message, or cause point of view but from an infrastructure point of view. In other words find a better way to leverage all your previous participants without creating too much hassle for them.
  3. Give and take – Acknowledge all contributions and feedback. Do everything to make sure that you have compensated fairly to all deserving contributors and you are investing in a future participation possibility. Nothing works like participants promoting you on their own.
ideaken provides consulting solution to identify this opportunity in your company and an exclusive technology platform to bring all your external stakeholders together for co-creation engagement. To initiate a conversation with us, contact us here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

WHEN IT IS BEST NOT TO TALK ABOUT the most innovative feature of your product

When Tata Nano was being conceptualized and talked about in the media, all of us thought that this is a revolution. It was indeed a revolution in technology, and entire world acknowledged it, however the buyer in the market is not impressed, here is why …

For most of the middle class Indians, owning a car is a status symbol, Tata nano does not help in creating a status symbol. The car itself has no issues, it has everything to become a proud owner of, but the Tatas and the media have ruined the image by calling it a car for the poor. It’s a no brainer that the middle class do not want to be categorized as poor or middle class, even if they are one.

At the other extreme are Apple products, where the technology being sold is a bit over hyped, and the price for them in some cases cannot be justified, but I know many who buy an apple product as a status symbol.

The core of Tata Nano’s innovation was in having a vision for a unique car, partnering with SMEs, pushing its engineering staff to “do more with less” and in making the engine more efficient.  All these also contributed in achieving a significantly less manufacturing cost – a first of its kind cost innovation, however sometimes, the most innovative feature of your solution is best kept hidden from your customers.

Imagine one of following three scenarios …

1)    If Tata had never used the word ‘Cheap car’ in any of their communications. If they had simply put this car at par with all other entry level cars, and provide incredible free goodies or discount or best of all - free petrol for years! They could as well afford to replace the whole car after 5 years!
2)    If they would have used their technology advancements to provide C class/ sedan features at hatchback/ entry level prices. You might argue that the purpose of making a car affordable won’t be achieved, I agree.
3)    If their PR was based on a concept of - finally a nano (small) car has arrived, or having a message “why spend more” instead of “spend less coz your are poor”

So how did the low cost airlines pull it off? Low cost airlines worked because the flights didn’t taxi into your garage. No one really had to exhibit their boarding passes.

In the already crowded tablet market in India, the Government of India is talking about launching a tablet for $35 for students and maybe $50 for others.  Question is – how are they going to position it?  Hope they don’t launch it as a tablet for the poor man!

The message for corporate innovation leaders is - Technology Innovation must go in hand with Design, Business and Marketing innovation. Market research is not the best way to feel the pulse of your customers, and innovation also needs a cultural touch.

In addition to a) Product & Technology challenges, ideaken will soon launch collaborative innovation for b) Process, service & business, and c) Design, brand & usability category of innovation challenges.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From ‘First to invent’ to ‘First to patent’ – How does this affect open innovation?

It will be interesting to explore what this change from ‘First to invent’ to ‘First to patent’ means for collaborative innovation / open innovation.

The America Invents Act, is a bill passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress and expected to become law soon, whereby America will move from ‘First to invent’ to ‘First to patent’ system. Most of the world has ‘First to patent’ as a law.

Below we try to look at the consequences to what it means for collaborative innovation (not just innovation), and we invite you to share your thoughts.

“US patent laws synchronizing with the rest of the world”

1) Reduced wasted efforts will help improve innovator’s focus: In the ‘first to invent’ scenario, inventor delays the filing of patent as much as possible, but continues to invest time and money, in turn, risking re-inventing something which is already invented. This issue gets addressed to some extent in the ‘First to Patent’ scenario.
Effects on Collaborative innovation / Open innovation  >   Less time will be spent on fighting disputes because innovator validates the IP before spending too much time on it and hence will have less probability of heart burn for the effort spent .  Additionally ‘First to patent’ will provide more IP confidence to the inventor than a guesswork that he probably is the first to invent.

2) Bigger market place, better innovation ecosystem: A typical inventor will have similar shortage of money to spend on filing for a patent, like he had earlier, but now he also needs to be the ‘First to patent’. The news that the filing of provisional patent is now made simpler, and the fact that innovator is still needed to shell out money for it, in my opinion, will increase genuine patent applications.
Effects on Collaborative innovation / Open innovation  >  Once inventors invest money, he would like to benefit from it, either by staring up a business, by approaching VCs or putting it up in a marketplace for licensing it, all of these will benefit open innovation.

3) Leveled playfield will increase innovation affordability:  If “First to invent” law has played any role in American innovation dominance, which we think it has, with this change might see some decline, primarily because it affects the investors – an innovation support system. It may not be good for America, but we see that as paving a way for levelled ground, and this levelled ground will benefit the world as a whole. World is currently used to being at the receiving end of innovations happening in America, it’s not that the world cannot invent, but mostly they did not invent as fast as America did.
Effects on Collaborative innovation / Open innovation  > Currently innovations are cost heavy as it primarily comes from a developed country, in near further you will see revolution in terms of cost and affordability of innovations.

“Race to patent office or race to invent”

1) Hoarding of Patents by big companies will increase bullying: Biggies would afford to file at will and in volumes. Yes, but can they really afford to file all  they invent, we don’t think so, they might rush to file at the beginning, but we feel that they will go back to the same numbers and pace once the fatigue sets in, in a year or so?
Effects on Collaborative innovation / Open innovation > Big companies can misuse their muscle power in specific scenarios by running to the patent office faster than a genuine inventor.  This is a bad news for collaborative innovation.  Big companies might gain in short term, but they might end up killing SME innovators in medium term, which are one of the channels for corporate innovations. The US corporations which support open innovation ideally should not support this bill. Their international open innovation experience will come handy in aligning themselves to the new laws at home front.

2) Anti - SMEs, Innovators & Start ups:  They will constantly feel insecure about their inventions until they apply for the patent, which is extremely counterproductive. You would rather spend time, effort and money on making your idea big, now you have something else to worry about.  VCs and Angeles would move away from early stage ventures in short term, America pioneered and became world leader in start up industry because of the superior protection for start up innovation. So far investors invested in the IP even if it is not patented; now they won’t have that option and have to look for far more established companies to reduce their risk.
Effects on Collaborative innovation / Open innovation > A new industry around collaborative patenting might emerge.

3) Too big a change, done too fast: We need to wait and see if someone questions the new law in light of the US constitution. The current patent law refers to the ‘inventor’ which as per the US constitution means the person who invented it first and not the person who filed it first.
Effects on Collaborative innovation / Open innovation > You might think that if we can’t protect the inventor, then there is no reason to look forward to collaborative innovation.  For collaboration, first thing the inventor expects is protection. Collaborative innovation will also need to evolve to accommodate this change, and most probably it will soon.

What do you think ?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

ideaken featured in Entrepreneur magazine

ideaken featured in Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine’s September 2011 issue.

Entrepreneur magazine is one of the biggest selling business magazines on US newsstands, published in 6 countries with 3 million readers worldwide.

In India Entrepreneur is published by the fastest growing media company Network 18

To read a full article - pick up a copy of Entrepreneur! or contact us here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

From ‘Ego’ to ‘Pride’ – The change in Innovation mindset?

‘Ego’ occupies its place inside every individual from early childhood, be it a self respect or a self esteem, or even arrogance. And as enterprises are made of people, enterprises too have their ego. 

Traditionally ‘Ego’ has been one of the driving forces behind companies doing innovation. I say - one of the factors, because there are many other factors which drive innovation, but here I am trying to explore just the ego angle.

This ‘Ego’ is usually two fold, one in terms of being superior to the competition and second being superior to your own self. Both types are healthy!

Over the time, however the cost of keeping this ‘Ego’ has gone up. It’s neither the individual’s fault nor the enterprise’s – ‘Globalization’ is the culprit, and unfortunately you or your enterprise cannot stop this guy!

So should one forget about the ‘Ego’? Some decided just that, some are ok to pay the cost of it, but some of them decided to reinvent it.

Let’s talk about the people and enterprises that are reinventing it, in other words innovating the innovation itself. What I feel they did is – they (e.g. P&G) worked backwards. Backwards from the final goal of wanting to be innovative. Instead of looking down and cut cost they looked up, they replaced the ‘Ego’ with the ‘Pride’. Even in this lot, not everyone worked backwards, others who saw this work, just followed the trend setters.

With ‘Ego’ being out of sight, these enterprises became far more open, they started collaborating with employees, customers, vendors and even someone completely stranger for their innovation needs. The real test though was if they really can get innovation done this way, it turns out that they did!

Obviously now instead of cost of ‘Ego’, they dealt with cost of ‘Pride’.

They soon realized that they no longer need to increase their innovation budget in direct proportionate to the increased innovation expectations.

The cost of pride turned out to be far less than the cost of ego, in turn resolving their initial challenge around cost.

Additionally, ‘Pride’ felt far more positive a feeling than the ‘Ego’.

Unless you are like Steve Jobs, who would rather keep his ego, albeit for the right reasons, and innovate yourself at the cost and speed you can afford, for rest of us, I feel switch from ‘Ego’ centric innovation to ‘Pride’ centric innovation is on its way to become mainstream.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is there a NON-INTRUSIVE way to start with OPEN INNOVATION?

Recently we met up with a team at a leading automotive and industrial technology company.

As expected, the team there were well aware of open innovation (OI) and they told us how they too believe that the future of innovation belongs to OI. However there was an issue. The lead team is wondering how to get a buy in from their in-house research team - on where to start and how to start.

We offered some suggestions and we thought of some more along the same lines later. These may not necessarily be solutions to your OI problems, but they might provide some food for thought.

1) Start with a non critical innovation - The best way to avoid any issue at the beginning is to start small, and start with the non critical innovation needs. You can do this by selecting the really tough challenges or near to impossible solutions (Or really simple ones on the creative lines which does not have a right or wrong perceptions). Remember your objective is to start somewhere with OI. Do reward the deserving efforts (even though you may not be benefiting from it at the first try), not rewarding the deserving effort will put you in middle of a different issue to deal with! Another issue you will need to handle here would be to justify that - if you didn’t get the right solution then why do it again (and your private & one to one answer needs to be along the lines that the objective was to create a culture and not find a solution).

2) Make the in-house research team the owner of OI – The solutions coming in; using OI; should strictly be considered as ‘raw material’ for the internal research team. There needs to be a conscious effort to not bypass the internal team. The best way to do this is to make the in-house research team the owner of OI. The management team just above the core research team should not try to a) push too hard for OI b) get access to inputs coming in from outside c) should focus on the final outcome from their internal team (just the way they were doing earlier).

3) Select Vendors and Suppliers using open innovation – Today organizations select vendors and suppliers using either a recommendation, external consultation or via a RFP process. Though there is nothing wrong in these traditional methods, you have an opportunity to add a bit of an innovation flavour (be it for technology, a supply process or support). Ask for stretch goals and see how the responses come in. You can also use dedicated innovation intermediaries and other established channels for your selection process. When done, advocate it as open innovation within your company.

One or more of the above could be an ideal way of starting open innovation within your company; in the end; you need to enable the internal R&D team in understanding the power of open innovation. Also this will provide hands on experience in evaluating and supplementing selected solutions and help break one of the myths - that the internal R&D team is not required when the company goes on the Open Innovation path.

The only way you will be able to continue the OI journey is when your internal research team is able to produce better outcome using OI and when the credit still stays with your internal innovation team.

Do you think these can work for your organization, or do you know of a better way? Do share with us.