Jan 7

More about the Tongs Model

As promised some time ago, I’d like to share a some more on a powerful yet simple TRIZ tool which I recently talked about at the European TRIZ Association Conference in Bergamo, Italy. The specific topic I presented related to the ‚ÄúTongs‚ÄĚ model, which is primarily intended to help learners new to TRIZ to start to use¬†basic TRIZ concepts and to develop their TRIZ skills. The word ‚ÄúTongs‚ÄĚ is not an acronym but instead refers to the way the model helps the user to get to grips with and manipulate a problem situation quickly and effectively – as an analogy to how Tongs are used to manipulate objects in the physical world. According the OTSM Axiom of a root of problem, fundamentally, any problem situation can be described as a conflict between human desire and objective factors or natural laws. An example of an objective factor or natural law is the law of gravity; our desire to fly like the birds is limited by gravity.

In the Tongs model we start with a statement of where we are now (the Initial Situation or IS) and we detail what the key negative effect of this might be. For example, I might be unhappy about washing the dishes after a family meal because it takes a lot of time. We then state a ‚ÄúMost Desirable Result‚ÄĚ (MDR), that is, what we would wish for if we had a magic wand to wave over the problem situation. In the example of washing the dishes, maybe I wish that after use, the dirt simply disappears! Next we explore the barrier which prevents us from achieving the MDR; in the case of the dirty dishes, there is no means for the dirt to disappear by itself. Next we suggest a partial solution or explanation of how the dishes might be able to clean themselves ‚Äď perhaps there is a removable layer on the dish which can be peeled off, removing the dirt from the dish surface. We can now iterate the model, creating a new IS and MDR and repeat the process, until we get very close to the MDR we have stated. Incidentally a potential solution which appears fairly quickly through this analysis is dishes made from many removable layers. This type of dish is often used in camping.
When used with other tools to break psychological inertia, I’ve found the Tongs model helps TRIZ novices to develop their understanding of their problem rapidly and to improve the quality of the solutions they propose. Why not try it out and let me know how you get on?

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Apr 13

The power of targeted thinking and effective use of resources

I’ve recently been exposed to some new tools in the area of TRIZ analysis. One specific topic which I will discuss further in future posts concerns the TONGS (or Reality-Goal) model for problem definition. This really is a deceptively strong way of approaching a problem situation and getting to the core of the real conflict. The other topic I’ve been working with recently is new ways to expand problem solving¬†insights around use of system resources. Based on previous work done by a number of TRIZ masters, I’ve developed my own tool for systematically examining system resources and identifying particularly powerful resources, which already exist within a problem situation¬†to solve the problem. ¬†Using this tool on a few problem situations, I’ve been struck by the way the resources “light up” as their hidden functional, energy field, form, parameter and time resources become clear. Just one quick example of the power of resources to solve a problem without compromise: several years ago a robotic systems manufacturer was struggling to lubricate a carriage which was sliding on a boom in a clean room environment. The problem was that no oil could be used in a clean room situation, so how to lubricate the carriage? The answer, derived after many months of research, was to cool the boom locally so that just enough atmospheric water vapour condensed onto the boom in the best places to lubricate the carriage. This solution gives a small insight into the sort of resources which are often hidden in our problem situations and which can be used advantageously to solve problems.

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Feb 5

A Charter for Open Innovation

Here as promised are a draft list of Open Innovation Principles. I’ve framed these around the type of Open Innovations that CoCatalyst, my company offers so they will need some adaption to other Open Innovators. It would be great to get your feedback on this Charter.

The CoCatalyst Charter for Open Innovation

The purpose of this charter

Open Innovation offers a way for companies to identify faster, lower cost and more impactful business growth solutions with potentially more certain outcomes than can be obtained through traditional innovation models. Whilst Open Innovation offers big benefits, in our experience there are a number of concerns people have with this approach. What we seek to do is to work hand in hand with our clients to overcome these issues and ensure they get the most from Open Innovation.

The purpose of this charter is to spell out how we do this.

The way we work

Helping you succeed
We are experienced in the area of Open Innovation and we can help you through the entire process, engaging at both strategic and tactical levels as required. We will work closely with you to identify what a successful outcome would be for you and agree the steps needed to achieve it.

Operating fairly
We will not undertake work where a conflict of interest exists. We make sure dealings with third parties (e.g. solution providers or seekers) are fair and even handed because we want to make sure that both our reputation and your reputation are protected.

Communication
We will keep you informed of progress through regular updates.
In our experience, we have found that up-front dialogue, clearly setting expectations and continued two-way communication are essential to building enduring and trusting relationships. Our Open Innovation process applies this principle throughout the activity programme and with all parties.

You are in control
We operate a stepped Open Innovation process and you have the opportunity to redirect or stop particular activities at any point.
We will not make any commitments on your behalf without your formal agreement.

Delivering what we promise
We will meet the timeliness and quality commitments we have made and ensure there are no surprise fees either from Cocatalyst or Associated Agents.

Assuring Confidentiality
We will take your needs or technologies and turn them into a form which allows us to share them at the most appropriate level of confidentially. We will agree with you how much or how little you want us to share with potential solution providers or seekers. We will agree with you which industries and experts to approach and more importantly those not to approach. We are happy to sign your non-disclosure agreement.

Providing relevant and credible Information
Our process is designed to focus research on finding high quality contacts by targeting potentially strong solution areas and linking to industries where appropriate capabilities or needs already exist. We understand that your time is valuable so we focus on ensuring that the information we provide is relevant and based on solid evidence.

Delivering the benefits into your business
When we have identified promising solutions and potential partners, we will help you to understand the best way to integrate these with your current business and systems.

In later posts I’ll go into a bit more detail behind why I’ve chosen these principles. Hopefully, in future, this Charter might¬†make a small contribution¬†to trust building in Open Innovation.

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Dec 9

Time for principles in Open Innovation?

Having been working in the field of Open Innovation for some time and having come across a number of Open Innovation “victims”, I’ve been reflecting on the need for some statement of principles around Open Innovation. To this end, I have prepared some¬†ground rules¬†for Open Innovation and in upcoming posts I will set out to share these. I’m doing this to provoke some debate or reaction and also to check my thinking. Watch this space for more.

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Nov 27

Open Innovation in the Food and Drink Industry

I attended and presented at a very good conference yesterday, run by the Food and Drink Innovation Network. The topic being discussed was Open Innovation. There was some really good materal presented, although I was sad to have missed some of the afternoon speakers after some low life stole my wallet during the lunch break. In the morning the main vector of questioning was “prove it works – show me examples of breakthrough Open Innovation in the food and drink industry” (by the way¬†a good example here is Nespresso) but in the afternoon the¬†focus shifted towards “how do I make it work for my organisation?”¬†Speakers included Mike Hield from IXC-UK, Tim Jones from Future Agenda, Paul Isherwood from GSK, Kelvin Pitman from Crown Packaging and Ian Noble from Pepsico. Full presentations will be on the FDIN website next week.

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Feb 27

10 common Open Innovation mistakes

For many years innovative organisations have been trying to resolve the conundrum of how to get to bigger impact innovation more quickly and with less investment. In answer to this, the practice of Open Innovation is increasingly being adopted as the normal mode of operation for leading innovative companies. Open Innovation, applied correctly, offers the opportunity to access leading capabilities from around the world, exploiting complementary technologies and partnerships to short-cut the need for expensive internal activity and to realise innovation strategies faster. Some companies have adapted to this new way of working quickly and relatively painlessly but many organisations have had teething problems, to say the least. We have identified 10 common mistakes which can stop organisations from benefiting from the Open Innovation way of working.

1. Engaging externally without a clear innovation strategy

With all the talk about Open Innovation, it’s tempting to just give it a quick go. Just because Open Innovation is current flavour of the month and you’re just trying it out doesn’t mean that you should avoid linking it to your strategic objectives. In this respect, it’s just like any other type of innovation – if it’s not linked to strategy, you’re unlikely to be able to implement it and you’ll end up burning money.

2. Poor definition of the requirement or need

A poorly defined initial brief can make the crucial difference between success and failure to connect with potentially relevant partners. One aspect of poor definition which I see time and time again in Open Innovation is requirement definitions which focus on pre-conceived solutions rather than focusing on functions and parameters to be delivered. This kind of thinking really narrows down the solution space at a point when the process should really be divergent and it can seriously obstruct cross-industry engagement. A key area where Open Innovation can really score is in bringing in cross industry connections. These are great because you’re less likely to have competitive issues and if you’re clever about connecting with the right industry, their technology can be more advanced than yours. If your brief stops you making cross industry connections you’re going to miss out on big opportunities for faster, lower cost and bigger impact innovation.

3. Failing to get sufficient internal business or brand team engagement

Using Open Innovation, you can connect with great partners, but if you can’t get the attention of your internal business or brand teams then all you effort can be wasted. Clearly, having a shared innovation strategy will help a lot but sometimes you also need to find ways to engage your internal customers in the possibilities that the world outside the business can offer. Creating an engagement strategy upfront linked to organisation and processes to deal with this new form of innovation can be critical in getting buy-in and “pull” for your externally sourced ideas and technologies.

4. Not having a clear, aligned internal view about how to handle IP

This may seem obvious, but Open Innovation projects can stall not only as a result of failure to agree external terms around IP licensing or sharing but also through internal misalignment with regard to IP. I remember a meeting amongst IP professionals where Open Innovation was discussed where two whole flip charts of IP issues were raised before a single positive aspect of Open Innovation was mentioned. The IP team needs to be actively engaged in your Open Innovation strategy, with a mindset based on finding ways to make it happen.

5. Ruling out radical or unexpected options too quickly

One interesting factor with broad based Open Innovation is that potential solutions can come from anywhere. This can sometimes make it difficult to understand the value of solutions which are really different. If the requirement has been set poorly, it can be all too easy to miss the option which might give you a real innovation edge.

6. Lack of variety in Open Innovation approach

The Open Innovation area has evolved significantly since its inception some year ago. This means that there are many options which can help you to connect with potentially valuable partners. Many companies still fail to exploit the richness that is on offer and stay with one supplier. This can seriously jeopardise the chances of finding the right partner. For example, the average success rate achieved through idea market places such as Nine Sigma or Innocentive is around 40%. That means that 6 times out of every 10 you will fail to get the result you want. The best option is use a combined approach of two or more Open Innovation service providers.

7. Not understanding the attitude as well as capabilities of potential partners

A potential partner might have the right technology to satisfy your needs but do they have the right internal motivations, attitudes and behaviours to become a long term, trusted partner? Many of the on-line Open Innovation tools fail to give you a flavour of this important part of your potential partner’s profile. You need to make sure your evaluation tools and review processes specifically probe this area.

8. Not respecting the needs of potential partners

In any innovation process, lack of feedback can quickly kill interest from the solution provider end. At the least, the solution provider deserves a rapid and detailed response so that they can stay engaged with the process and feel better equipped to answer the next challenge. The decision making processes in large organisations can be long and drawn out and without any interim feedback or indication of good faith the solution provider can become suspicious even before a direct contact has been made. This really isn’t a good way to start a new long term relationship.

9. Looking at potential partners in isolation

Modern innovation often requires complex combinations of capabilities to be brought together, creating unique and sustainable value to the end customer. A step that is commonly missed is to try to “join the dots” and consider interesting combinations of capabilities. An even more sophisticated route which is often overlooked is to creating additional value by bringing together disparate network contacts to solve problems which are mutually important to you and your partners.

10. Last but not least…failure to build trust

If you were asked by a mysterious company to share your deepest technology secrets in an open “non-confidential” way with only the vaguest chance of any reward at the end, would you do it? The only reason that solution providers do just this is because they have some (possibly unwarranted) trust in the Open Innovation process and some belief that they may have just the right solution for the client. Going into Open Innovation without a win-win approach and behaviours which deliberately build trust will quickly kill your chances of getting anything meaningful and long term from it.

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Feb 9

Social Networking best practice for effective Open Innovation

 

Recently I’ve been reading Driving results through social networks by Bob Cross. I wanted to read this book because I’m looking for insights into the latest thinking on building new external Value Networks for organisations engaged in Open Innovation. Although a lot of the book is focused on the important area of improving internal networks within organisations I was struck by the section of the book dealing with behaviours which can energise networks both inside and outside of organisations. Here are the behaviours which were encouraged:

1. Do what you say you’re going to do and address tough issues with integrity. Cross says that people are energised by people that stand for something bigger than themselves. I would put it more simply – trust is important for any form of networking to work. Being consistent helps to build trust.

2. Look for realistic possibilities in conversations and avoid focusing too early or heavily on obstacles. Clearly this behaviour is critical to getting people to offer and build on ideas. I would say that Cross could go further here by suggesting that sometimes you have to suspend disbelief for a while and go with a conversation. I think the word “realistic” is a bit of a dangerous word to apply to early stage conversations as it implies an “already listening” mindset where it is easy to screen out options which might have potential when combined with other input from elsewhere in the network.

3. Become mentally and physically engaged in meetings and conversations. I would suggest that this can be take even further by bringing real enthusiasm to the interaction. I’ve often found that injecting enthusiasm into a discussion at the right time can help propel the development of new ideas. Often the other person in the conversation is already passionate about the subject area and reflecting rather than dampening that can really help to bring out new ideas and insights.

4. Be flexible in your thinking and use your expertise appropriately. I often advise clients to engage with external/internal experts from complimentary disciplines to support their decision making. This practice, in itself, is part of the process of opening up the innovation activity.

5. When you disagree, focus on the issue at hand and not the individual. This is pretty obvious really, but if this rule is ignored the trust can quickly disappear from an interaction.

The book contains some good advice, especially for senior managers wishing to improve performance of their business and even includes a section on calculating the value of a network. From my viewpoint I was hoping for a little more on Open Innovation and external networks.

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Dec 17

IXC-UK, a new addition to your Open Innovation toolkit

 

I’ve recently found out about another Open Innovation network with a different approach, the Birmingham, UK based Innovation Xchange UK, or IXC-UK. IXC originated in Australia 6 years ago although the model has only been operating in the UK for 2 years. This not-for-profit organisation applies a more hands-on approach to getting to know it’s client’s needs than other Idea marketplaces such as Innocentive or Nine Sigma.¬†Innovation experienced IXC intermediaries will “go native” by spending 1 day a week at the client site. This way they can really start to connect to the client’s requirements. The IXC also has a repository of innovation capabilities which the Intermediaries can access in confidentiality protected way. The Intermediaries get together on a regular basis and share problem situations that their clients are working on to see if someone in their network can provide a solution. Industry cross-over solutions are common because of the scope of the IXC network and because many IXC clients are global organisations, solutions can also come from anywhere. From what I’ve found out so far,¬†I think the IXC might well provide another dimension to¬†your Open Innovation toolkit.

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Oct 25

Open Innovation Version 2.0 – collaborate like the Wright Brothers

 

Apart from the specific area of Open source code, where collaboration is key, in my opinion, Open Innovation has yet to fulfil its potential in generating powerful collaboration between overlapping communities of practice. When the Wright brothers turned their attention to making the first powered heavier-than-air flying machine, they brought with them considerable expertise from bicycle manufacture and through their connections in the burgeoning automotive companies, they brought in a power plant with an acceptable power-to-weight ratio. The Wright brothers didn’t work in a vacuum, however,¬†but shared their thoughts with a number of similarly minded,¬†but diversely expereinced, enthusiasts around the world and learnt about flight control from their own and others’ experiments with kites and gliders. The common factor in this collaboration was a shared interest and enthusiasm. Deep levels of collaboration were achieved without the power of the internet, but¬†largely through¬†the now unfashionable medium of letter writing.¬†

I see some signs today of similar¬†virtual groups coming together to work on things like electric cars and open source software but I think that often bigger companies miss out on the opportunity to benefit from this sort of collaboration. I don’t think it would be impossible for a bigger company, given the right network connections and attitude, to encourage innovation which is both collaborative and mutually beneficial with a network of collaborators from different but complementary fields. If this happened, it might start to move us towards a more collaborative and less competitive Open Innovation Version 2 where the rewards of Open Innovation in terms of growth could be far larger than those enjoyed today.

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Sep 24

Innovation in a strategic vacuum – not exactly a recipe for success

I visited a company (who will remain nameless to protect the innocent) the other day who, although doing the everyday stuff OK, seemed to¬†have no business direction or worse still,¬†any strategy aimed at the future. We discussed some possible innovative ideas and some new ways the company might market itself but I couldn’t check any of these against my first innovation question “does it fit with strategy?”. All I got was silence and “well we might do this, or that”. The whole experience served to remind me how difficult it is to create meaningful innovation in a strategic vacuum. It can work but only if the company has a single decision maker in charge of the business who can decide if the innovation is what he or she wants. Otherwise, it is very easy to go around in ever decreasing circles, eventually disappearing in a puff of obsolescence.

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