Archives For innovation

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Successful startups have a clear and defined purpose—an offering, product, or business model like no other. They also know when to evolve, redesign, or adapt, in sync with emerging market needs. But how?

Arvind Gupta, a colleague in Shanghai, recently wrote about the importance of adaptive innovation cycles in emerging markets in Rotman Magazine. These are methods that I believe can be easily molded for businesses in both the US and European markets as well. Adaptive innovation involves stripping steps from the corporate R&D process and executing quickly in two modes: learning and creating. Some of us at IDEO refer to this as “the squiggle.”

This approach empowers designers to rapidly integrate information from in-market testing. Through repeated adaptive innovation cycles, a team can iterate an offering, product, or model in sync with evolving market needs and stay ahead of the competition. According to Arvind, there are four pillars of success to this approach: Purpose, Pace, Pulse, and Prototyping. Read more about the four pillars of adaptive innovation here.

Where could you be using adaptive innovation to improve an idea?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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A recent article by Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Perils of Always Ignoring the Bright Side” got me thinking. Using the examples of GM crops and shale gas, Ridley makes the argument that the media’s singular interest in reporting negative outcomes has caused us to miss the potentially significant benefits of these two innovations. “Good news is deemed less newsworthy than the bad,” he writes, and as a result new technologies are harder than ever to get adopted.

It seems to me that this doesn’t just apply to innovations—where there may need to be a balancing of negative and positive—but also to new ideas that are clearly good. If good news is uninteresting to the media, then one of our most powerful tools for spreading new ideas and speeding the uptake of new approaches is lost to us. At a time when some of the most pressing problems are, at their root, issues of behavior it is tragic that the single most powerful tool for affecting behavior, storytelling, is being underutilized because the business of media perceives bad news to be the only way to engage an audience.

What are the alternatives? It is interesting to me that arguably the most successful new media venture of the last decade takes an almost entirely positive view on storytelling. TED has evolved from a cloistered conference for the technological elite to a storytelling machine consisting of hundreds of TEDx conferences a year and millions of downloads of TED talk videos. The success of this venture, and the appeal it seems to have with the young, suggests that a more optimistic approach has a market and is capable of inspiring engagement and action. Continue Reading…

It may seem entirely obvious that organizations with a sense of purpose achieve greater levels of innovation than those that don’t. I think of Apple (Insanely Great), and Nike (Just Do It) as good examples of purpose that guides and drives innovation, never mind the Aravind Eye Hospitals or Grameen Bank.

The question is why should this be so? Again – this might be obvious but I supect there are nuances.

Most start-ups have a clear sense of purpose but as they scale it gets lost. How can the very largest of organizations, those with the potential to have the most impact, create purpose that drives innovation? AG Lafley used the mantra – “the consumer is boss” to focus P&G on consumer led innovation. Jeffrey Immelt created Ecomagination, and more recently, Healthymagination as big ideas to create coordinated innovation across the many business units of GE. John Mackey at Whole Foods has used a set of core values to support grass roots innovation.

I believe that organizations whose purpose is only to build shareholder value or maximize profits will not sustain innovation. I also suspect that different types and sizes of organization need different expressions of purpose. Are there examples of sustained innovation without purpose?

Following the G20 summit this week, it seems as though we are in one of the most significant periods of new rule making we have seen for a long time. Our government leaders were promoting all kinds of new regulation to control hedge funds and banks. Similarly this year we expect to see new regulations emerging from the Copenhagen summit on carbon emissions. Here in the US, new rules are being proposed for health care, particularly around access, affordability and medical records.

Two of my colleagues at IDEO, Tatyana Mamut and Lionel Mori, have proposed that innovation, and particularly systemic innovation, is determined by a balance of three things – behavioral norms, tools and rules. As designers we tend to take rules and regulations as part of the existing constraints but in a time of rapid regulatory change I wonder whether there is a more active role for design thinking.

Take Formula 1 motor racing as an esoteric but illustrative example. This is a sport where the rules are often changed with little notice and the race teams invest millions of dollars in their response, attempting to gain tenths of a second in performance over their fellow competitors. Formula 1 is a kind of experimental hotbed where new rules are constantly tested. The intent of the rule makers is often to create a predictable reduction in performance so as to create safer or more competitive racing. What often happens however is that the ingenuity of engineers and designers combined with poorly written rules result in faster rather than slower cars. Design is testing the rules and innovation is the result.

What if design was used to test some of the rules our government leaders are proposing? Could we go through some experimental cycles using design and prototyping as a tool before final decisions are made about what rules to adopt? Might this help us avoid our tendency to create new rules and then walk away, under the assumption that our finance, health and global energy systems will now behave in the way we want them to?

New context

January 20, 2009 — 16 Comments

So much of what we are able to do with design is dependent on the context in which we ask our questions. It may be that a definition of an innovator is someone who is able to ask a question that noone else has thought to ask. It seems to me that today the context in which we get to ask our questions has changed. Barak Obama’s inauguration speech layed out an agenda for innovation and design thinking that should keep us busy for quite some while.

We were certainly asking some of these questions before but now those around us will better understand what we were saying and perhaps be more open to the solutions that we propose. This is a good time to be a designer.

The question is, how do we best exploit it?