A new business insight provided by Roger La Salle, innovation thought leader and pioneer of “Matrix Thinking”™

Part 1 of a 2-part article

Open Innovation, the term used when companies and people literally open their problems and issues to the world looking for advice and solutions, is possibly the most obvious form of collaboration. There are a lot of issues with this so- called open innovation model, a prime one of course is ownership of IP. This has the potential to be a minefield if not properly understood and managed.

However, before we go too far down the path of collaboration and open innovation it may first be useful to agree on what we even mean by the word innovation. Innovation, a word that seems to have been corrupted by so many, achieving nothing more that turning the simple into the complex!

It can be argued that Innovation is the basis for all things new and better, but what inspires innovation and new ideas? More to the point, what is the link between an innovative or inventive idea and an outcome? If we think of innovation when applied to building a business and making money, which is probably what inspires most innovators, then we need to think about the risks in business.

In most cases when an idea is being pursued and a technology development is being undertaken, whether it be an IT solution, new App, a tangible product or a new service, in essence there are only two risks that need to be considered. The first is what we may refer to as technical risk, which means can the technologist achieve the desired outcome? In science and technology, for the most part the technologist will deliver a solution or at least will be able to give some insight as to the risks involved. For example if we were to ask the technologist to give us anti-gravity boots they would easily be able to assign the risks associated with achieving an outcome. Of course in this case the risk would be enormous.

On the other hand if we asked a clock to be developed with hands that were in fact LED strips that were clearly visible in darkness, the answer would be that this is achievable with no technical risk. In short, technical risk is something we can generally measure and assign a degree of risk. However, assuming I did achieve the technical outcome with my innovation, the real questions to be asked, and the ones that too many innovators and even large companies get so wrong so often are “can I sell it?” – “will there be a market?”

Market risk is without doubt out the single biggest risk in bringing new products to market. With this in mind we may be able to coin a definition of innovation that has the effect of reducing market risk and with that we can explore the opportunity landscape to hopefully create successful innovation.

When we look at some products from the past, Google, the i-Phone, MasterCard and Visa, Nokia, Seiko, the IBM PC and Windows, one thing these all have in common is that none were first to market. Indeed all were followers of some prior art and yet all these were great successes. In short the secret to mitigating market risk is to find a product or service that everybody is buying and simply change it in some way to add value.

Thus a definition for innovation can follow: the common synonyms for innovation are improvement or advancement. Moreover, if we take it that people buy things because they see value for money, then perhaps the best definition for innovation is “Change that Adds Value”. Indeed this derivation and definition was coined in my book “Think New” many years ago. This definition has now been adopted by many organisations and innovation practitioners worldwide.

Whereas innovation may be about making changes for improvement, inventions are more about novelty. Novelty of course is an essential ingredient to a successful patent application. Having said that, there are many innovations that do contain elements of novelty and are thus also patentable. Indeed one may argue that there are few absolutely new inventions, though a few that may fall into this category might be the electric light bulb, the transistor device, the atomic bomb, radar and the laser.

Given that we may have a better understanding of innovation the task now falls to the creation of innovations. How does one do that and why is collaboration so vital to successful innovation outcomes? The secret to this comes from three elements, all essential ingredients that underpin successful innovation:
• Observation
• Knowhow born of experience
• Connections or collaborations

The key to finding opportunities for innovation lies in observation. That is, looking at the way people interact with the world, with products and services and finding the gaps and value added opportunities. Of course the idea embodied in the relatively new concept of Design Thinking asks one to look at the customer. However the fact is that from my reading of this methodology, what it fails to do is to ask how one looks at the customer. Furthermore it should also ask you to look at the customer’s customer. For example, is the retailer your customer or the purchaser and user of your product? The packaging industry seems to have worked that one out, for example in attending to supermarket shelf storage space and customer convenience in opening and storing products!

Indeed there are five things that Design Thinking seems to miss in exploring customer behaviour and the way people interact with products and the world. These are in my book “Think Next” published over a decade ago.

• Predictable activity
• Widespread activity
• Repetitious activity
• Comparative activity
• Trends

If we explore our customer with these five, what I refer to as “seeds” of opportunity, the game gets a lot easier. It’s further made easier if you then use the eight thinking triggers I refer to as “Catalysts” to stimulate thoughts about these seeds.

This is what I refer to as “opportunity capture”.

Part 2 of this article to follow in the May issue of our newsletter.


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