* Look at several alternatives, a hundred futures, before deciding on the best one for the moment. Remember the market place will be the best place for complete refinement of your product.
* Start small. Keep over heads low. Be lean and learn. Don’t spend money on swanky offices, first- class travel, hotels and the Mercedes Benz.
* Pursue areas with high entry level barriers, which competitors avoid like the plague. Test market in a small way. Experience the results; look into the customer’s eyes. Don’t just keep talking and making presentations. Review, tweak and go back to the market. Course correct, move. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. There is no guarantee of success.
* Nothing is an instant success. Every successful product is the result of a hundred corrections in response to customer reactions, changing aspirations. There is no time, when you can rest on your laurels because you are so perfect.
* Let your solutions be bold, what no one has done before. Don’t take shelter in incrementalism.
Companywide innovation is not about nurturing solitary genius in sterile laboratories but requires the bubbling enthusiasm of innovation spirals. The Innovation champion and all problem owners must consistently ensure the use of the tools and track the Innovation spiral meetings.
To internalize innovation tools, use them. Teach them to others. The new IT is Innovation Tools. Install them in every members mind’s computer. Present the tools with examples. Encourage questions. Teach the tools to your friends and your family. This is the best way to make it a part of your everyday life.
While the process is now in place, providing daily stimulus is the problem owner’s job. This can be done by asking the team a provocative question everyday. The questions could be
• What are the non-value adding activities in your daily work?
• How can we help to eliminate this?
• How can we do this faster?
• How to improve the productivity of this team?
‘It cannot be done!’ said the Swiss watch makers. In the watch industry, the Swiss are the ultimate court of appeal. The way the Titan Edge, the world’s slimmest water resistant watch was produced, is a lesson in persistent and patient problem solving and innovation. It was an example of an Indian company’s refusal to give up.
It all began in 1994. Mr. Xerxes Desai, then Managing director of Titan said, ‘Create a 3.5mm, water resistant watch – a watch as slim as a credit card. It took the Titan team four years and when they started in 1994 they were just a decade old…
What were the challenges?
To instill self confidence in the team.
Ensure buy-in from key people.
The engineering challenge. When everyone heard that the Swiss could not-do it, the virus of self doubt was rampant. This was overcome by the infectious confidence of top management.
Watch manufacturers in the past had been copy-cats. Since the 1950’s Indian companies had never manufactured a watch all by themselves. Titan attempted this from 1992. The Edge was an answer to the reigning lifestyle mantra, verbalized by a famous Hollywood queen who said ‘You cannot be too rich or too thin!’ It was a close collaboration between manufacturing, technology and research. Marketing took three years to embrace it. Between movements, cases and assembly, the challenge was to create a delicate watch, which was tough enough for the challenges of daily wear. They needed a slimmer battery with a longer battery life and less power consumption. The war had to be carried to the supplier’s tables and this meant a global search. The solution was a silicon chip which was developed to extend the battery life. Part of the manufacturing was out-sourced to Switzerland. All the tools required for the assembly were supplied by Titan! Even the glass had to be of .03mm thickness or as thick as three sheets of paper – a 75% reduction in thickness. It is one of India’s major product innovation, putting us on the world map!
An ounce of action is worth tonnes of e-mail, paper and speeches. Implementation is the key to innovation.The ‘reality test’ should now be ruthlessly applied. Once implementation starts, every move costs money. This is the last step in the innovation process and all ideas should be carefully studied. Implementing creative ideas and turning them into innovations is a special challenge. It is a process that requires a clear road map and the organizational will to stick to the path. This is where many organizations fail. Every team should have its own time bound plan, which is understood by the whole group.
Product innovation is not the most important type of innovation, though it is considered the most common type of innovation in Indian companies. Marketing innovation can affect the brand image of the whole product category. Coffee Day and Barista cafés have redefined the coffee break. ‘So much can happen over coffee’ says one of the advertisements. The success of these cafés has been good for coffee distributors all over India and has given coffee a new brand image. Time-sharing of holiday cottages created a whole new market for affordable holidays. Tractor companies are trying the same concept, where a group of farmers own a tractor together.
The team can spend adequate time choosing the correct solution. Here, all ideas are ruthlessly critiqued. Logic is mercilessly applied. After this process, the idea is going to leave the safe, sterile laboratory of the mind and start acting in the company. Every action will need an investment of resources of all kinds. This is the time to go into detail. Weed out unworkable ideas; make sure what the company can do. Now the dream castles need to have strong foundations under them.
Outcomes should be carefully studied. This is the time for a clear understanding of the cost benefit analysis by all. There is still time to course correct. Make sure that top management publicly lends support to every aspect of resource allocation and rewards participants on achieving innovation targets.
Revisit your goals and reconsider the impact of each solution the goals on the company. In view of the thinking process and ideas generated, it may be necessary to reconsider and restate the goals.
Impact of the ideas can be measured against the 6M framework. Or it could be measured merely against the bottom line. Critical to the goals are the 6M resources required to implement the idea. Identify the key parameters by which the outcomes will be measured. These parameters may be then prioritized. Ensure that all the ideas generated are displayed, presented and reflected upon. Put posters with all ideas around your Innovation Centre. Members of all teams can be invited to study them and add their suggestions. This is the time for debate and discussions.
Different parameters find different levels of priority depending on the situation at hand. Let us consider the example of the budget as a parameter and its priority level in different cases. For a company where liquidity is low, cash flow would be the most important concern. For a company facing a crisis, time may be of the essence and big budgets would be tolerated in view of the emergency situation.
• While identifying solutions, ensure that there are a wide variety of options to choose from. There is then a greater possibility that the final option chosen ensures optimal results. This systematic process ensures that the option chosen produces the best results.
• Analysis is the stage just prior to implementation. Therefore, detailed analysis forms the root to strong implementation.
In the creative thinking process, incubation is followed by ‘Analysis.’ During the process of analysis, apply left-brain thinking – logical, statistical and mathematical. Solutions have to be carefully discussed and the optimum one chosen. The solutions are analyzed against the parameters chosen by the problem owner.
Some prevalent parameters are:
• Human resources
• Goodwill and impact on staff motivation levels
• Saving lives
• Political capital
Picasso is said to have seen the handlebars of a bicycle and created the thoroughly modern ‘Bull’ from the handlebars. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s fantastic, vivid poem, Kubla Khan, was written after a fevered dream. Whether it is Archimedes discovering the laws of displacement and screaming his `Eureka’ moment through the streets of Syracuse or Madam Curie discovering the iridescent gleam of radium in her cluttered garret laboratory, the moment seems to be a flash of inspiration. The idea of evolution floated into Darwin’s mind as he read the essay on the Malthusian nightmare of overpopulation and overcrowding. But luck of course favours the prepared mind. Of course Newton and his apple or any of the others would never have reached that moment of seeming serendipity, if they had not preceded it by long hours of toil. A total obsession and long years of preparation and effort seem to stand silently behind that limelight moment of sheer magical discovery.
During idea generation, a list of alternative solutions are generated, seeds are sown.
During incubation the seeds are allowed to sprout, to grow unobstructed.
During analysis the plants are pruned and weeds are removed, till only the usable alternatives remain.
Implementation involves choosing the final solution, planning, developing a detailed roadmap, communicating it to the teams and finally acting on the blueprint.
Following total immersion in the ideas collected, the past, present and future possibilities come next. This is time for quiet reflection, allowing the mind to absorb all that has happened.
Incubation is the period when the ideas are handed over to the vast computer which is the sub-conscious. It is a secret computer into which everything one has ever thought or felt or experienced or smelt or touched, flows. Many inventions are the result of a flash of inspiration, happening during incubation. Whether it was Newton or James Watts inventing his steam engine, while watching the steam puffing out of a teapot on the stove, the moment of illumination happened during a silent gap in the storm of thoughts. Incubation is critical. Spend years working and thinking. Then switch off and let go. Hand over the problem to the subconscious, so that the universe may step in.
A total change of scene can aid incubation. A participant once recalled how after months of searching a moped launch, the team went to a movie about high fashion in Paris. He experienced an Aha! moment right there. The moped had so far been sold as a poor man’s scooter: in dingy dealer outlets. Presented in a lovely, stylish ambience, the whole brand was changed to express a style statement with romantic overtones. The moped suddenly became a fashion accessory. The best ideas are stimulated during incubation.
After idea generation, the next step in the thinking process is incubation. An incubator is a machine or an environment which helps nacent organisms to grow and develop in a protected environment. Delicate seeds are germinated and incubated in a farm house. Ideas are helped to grow during incubation. A premature baby is provided a womb like atmosphere in a hospital incubator. Incubation is what a mother hen does with own egg. She sits on it and provides a warm supportive climate and allows nature to take its own course. It is the calm before the storm of analysis and action.
It is interesting to note how one shifts gear between the left and right brain during the process of innovation. When involved in problem statement one uses the logical left brain. There is a dramatic shift to the right brain during idea generation. During incubation you need to let go and allow both sides to operate naturally without any effort. Rather like a kite being carried by the wind, the string in the hands of a dreamer. The capacity to shift gears smoothly between the left and right brain is required. The image of the creative, impractical dreamer is only a myth. The innovative thinker is a man of action, both sides of the brain, synchronized into one whole. Again, during analysis, one switches on the keen left brain, processing all the ideas through logic, statistics and number crunching. What is clear is that an innovator has to be equally facile in using both sides of the brain. The left brain which is logical, mathematical and statistical and the right brain which is poetic, holistic and creative, are both required during the process of innovation.
Identify and forecast the various consequences of an action. You could identify the impact of building a holiday resort in a forest. This could be
Improving the bottom line of the company
Damaging the environment
Harming the health of the employees
The impact could also be studied in various time periods: the next month, 6 months, 1 year and 5 years.
Sometimes the immediate impact on the company, may be great, resulting in short term profits. However, the long term impact could be disastrous, creating many dissatisfied customers.
Create opportunities for team mates to enjoy each other’s company in a great natural setting. Many companies have lovely campuses or parks nearby, which people hardly notice in their rush to meet deadlines - so schedule moonlight pot luck dinners. Families could be invited. This is a very useful, feel-good emotion. Welcome wonder into your life. Celebrate the beauty of the stars, and enjoy the wonder of the mountains along with team members. Greet the dawn and say goodbye to the sunset. The moonlight has been created to heal your wounds. Sleep on the lap of Mother Nature and become a child again. Go on excursions with your team.
Not all innovations can grow out of even the best existing systems. When you try to grow a revolutionary new idea, within a system, stock holders and vested interests move in to close ranks to protect their own power bases.
A Star Trek Enterprise expedition is a good analogy to develop this disruptive innovation. Imagine that the old company, planet earth is about to disintegrate. You put your best warriors and key elements of your culture into a ship which takes off into space to put down roots on a ‘safe planet’. When an existing company is in the declining phase of its product life cycle, sustaining innovation may cut losses, but a fresh new area may be the key to sustained profits. The discovery of Christopher Columbus was the result of such an expedition, far away from the home base. A new company speeding in as a garage start up, could be in the right place to replace the ailing white elephant. So when the company is doing well, why not set up a few garage start-ups, starships, a few gambles and experiments? These should be small and multiple. They should have support from the top, perhaps a direct reporting relationship with the CEO.
Dr. Rekha Shetty is Managing Director of Farstar Distribution Network, a unique consultancy company devoted exclusively to innovation and creativity under the brand name Mindspower.She is an author, an entrepreneur and an original thinker. Her long term Innovation Initiative, using 47 thinking tools helps in a steep increase in profits, reduction in costs, while improving customer satisfaction levels and employee participation levels. She is a consultant to ICICI Bank, Ashok Leyland Ltd., Hyundai Motors Ltd., TVS Group, TI Group, Durgapur Steel Plant, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. and other blue chip companies.
In her very first assignment in United India Insurance, she developed a nationally acclaimed advertising campaign. During the last seventeen years, she has specialized in the field of Creativity in Management and developed her own management brand, Mindspower. She was one of Asia’s first women District Governors for Rotary International and was awarded Rotary’s highest Award – Service above Self.
Her fourth book “Innovate! 90 Days to Transform your Business” is under print and will be released by Penguin during May 2010.