Innovate or Perish

By March 29, 20202019, Articles

We live in an innovation driven world that is in a constant state of change. A world where companies are required to evolve quickly to match pace with dynamic business demands.

To survive and thrive we need to constantly innovate and every new idea has to be new and distinct from the last idea. In the current market people want more but for less and if you don’t provide these, you will be replaced by some other firm/people.

If we were to plot this on a graph we would have ‘value’ on the X axis and ‘uniqueness’ on the Y axis. If something has great value but is not unique it won’t last for long and the same applies to something that is unique but does not have value.

Research by Jacob Goldenberg and Yoni Stern* of Columbia Business School has found that creativity actually reduces when you apply outside the box thinking or neglect to look beyond the core issue. Much the same as brainstorming where if you ask ten people to think up ideas by themselves you actually get better ideas than you would in an open brainstorming session with the same ten people.

Thinking outside the box doesn’t help as there really is no box. All you need to understand is the core issue inside the box and the solution to it. This is referred to as a closed world principle – a term coined by Roni Horowitz** – where the problem can be used as part of the creative solution. The principle states: “When solving a problem or creating a new solution, one should strive to use only those resources that exist in the product or system itself or in its immediate vicinity.

Inside the box, or closed world approach, idea generation has five basic tools according to Drew Boyd***:
Subtraction. Rather than adding components or attributes to improve a product we remove them. Removing the ear covers from headphones gave us ear buds as an option instead.
Multiplication. Unlike subtraction where we take away components or attributes multiplication involves the creation of additional copies but each copy is modified in some way. By adding stabilisers to children’s bicycles we have multiplied and changed the product slightly to accommodate the needs of a target audience.
Children’s bicycles have regular wheels plus two smaller training wheels attached to the rear wheel to keep the bicycle steady while the child learns how to ride. The two wheels were multiplied (and changed slightly) to create a new product that appeals to a different audience
Division. Dividing the product and/or its components provides a different perspective allowing us to see products in a different way. For example Amazon’s new in-car delivery offers the option to have packages delivered to wherever a customer’s car is.
Task unification. Task unification adapts an existing resource by finding additional uses for it. For example a baby pacifier that is also a thermometer.
Attribute dependency change. The attribute dependency tool helps us come up with ideas for new inventions by creating a new connection which didn’t exist previously. Transition sunglasses, for example, get darker as the light gets brighter.

When you look closely there are several closed world aspects to a product during the production cycle. These can be during the production phase, the marketing phase, the shelf phase in a showroom and then the actual usage phase. All of these different stages then provide us with the opportunity to change or modify them at any time as required.

Innovation opportunities are often right in front of us or part of the closed world, but we often fail to observe them. It is the structural fixedness which stops us. Fixedness happens when we repeat the same action time and time again without considering how a product could be reorganised to look differently.

IDEO’s David Kelley**** believes people often don’t notice products or items as it’s too mundane for them/us. This is where the innovator comes into the picture. The innovator will start questioning services and products in terms of why they are designed the way they are. They ask ‘how can we add more value to this product?’ and ‘how can we improve it or add additional functions?’

We all have a very entrenched structure in our firms and the way we work is pre-defined and doesn’t tend to change or develop much which makes the introduction of fresh new ideas into the business difficult to do. External ideas are not normally welcomed as people have been doing things the same way for years and are often resistant to change.

Idea generation is possible, but idea flow is not easy. Making the structure leaner and something where ideas can trickle down is challenging but, if done properly, will lead to innovation in companies.

*Jacob Goldenberg and Yoni Stern:
**Horowitz, R. “Creative Problem Solving In Engineering Design” (PDF).
***Drew Boyd:
****David Kelley

Further reading:

By Avinash Kumar, Associate Partner