Despite the immense importance, Innovation productivity has been a growing concern. Firms need to have higher productivity, and also predictability in innovation performance–making products better and also cheaper. The challenge is not about having more ideas. Instead, they need fewer ideas. They need only those ideas which matter to them for consistently sustaining and improving performances. Instead of occasional creative outbursts of extraordinary people, hence, they need methods for systematically generating ideas to address their burning issues.
Innovation appears to be the outburst of creative minds. It’s a sporadic act of the creative mind. Does systematically generating innovative ideas sound counterproductive? Does it run the risk of throttling innovation? Of course, these are valid questions.
We want to empower everyone to innovate. Of course, everyone is creative by birth and able to generate ideas. As human beings, each of us has an innate creative ability. Moreover, some of the techniques like brainstorming, synectics, random stimulation, and lateral thinking facilitate our innate ability to generate a Flow of Ideas. However, all of those ideas do not allow us to innovate an entirely new product or improve existing ones—in generating profitable revenue. We want those ideas that make products better and preferably cheaper to get our jobs done better.
We want ideas to address conflicting challenges. On the one hand, customers are looking for improved products to get their jobs done better at less cost. On the other hand, producers need to deliver them at less cost to generate profit. Our option of meeting these conflicting objectives is ideas. So, our challenge is not about just nurturing creativity for generating a flow of ideas. Instead, we should figure out a way of generating selective ideas for making products better and also cheaper. Hence, we need to have systematically innovative ideas generating capabilities.
Systematic Inventive Thinking—a first step towards systematically generating innovative ideas
To address the issue of facilitating innovation, several techniques have been developed. One of them is Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT). SIT derives from TRIZ to reduce the complexity of the overwhelming flow of ideas from widely known idea generation methods. For facilitating Incremental innovation, SIT focuses on five thinking tools. These are i. Subtraction, ii. Multiplication, iii. Division, iv. Task unification, and v. Attribute dependence. Yes, they help to bring discipline in generating ideas for incremental advancement. However, their efficacy is not out of the question. Moreover, they do not touch upon core implementation issues for making products better and also require fewer resources to produce and also operate. Particularly, these tools fall short in evolving innovations, and their diffusion, along the path of technological inventions and advancements
Hence, we need to expand our approach to systematically generating innovative ideas. Here is a 10-dimensional approach to systematically generating ideas–with a strong focus on making products better and cheaper.
The empathy of Getting jobs done better at less cost–the core element of systematically generating innovative ideas
Our continued advancement of the quality of living standards depends on the continuum flow of technology ideas for improving products to get our job done better. Moreover, these technological ideas for improving products and processes are at the core of producing increasing Wealth from depleting sources to meet our growing consumption. Once we focus on getting the job done, customer preferences, and the varying situation in which we need to execute those jobs, we succeed in bringing discipline in generating ideas. This focus alone encourages our minds to produce only those ideas that help customers get purposes served better.
Once we bring an additional filter for screening those ideas that should improve the product and reduce the cost simultaneously, we start getting far more valuable ideas than before. However, often, ideas for making products better and also cheaper sound oxymorons. Fortunately, it is not. It’s feasible to generate ideas for improving the product and reducing the need for inputs like natural resources, energy, and labor to produce and operate them. As a matter of fact, this is our only hope and the capability to produce increasing wealth from depleting resources while causing less harm to the environment. Let’s look into our options of developing such ideas systematically.
Replace the role of mechanical parts with electrical and electromechanical ones
More or less, every product that we use has mechanical components. They suffer from many limitations of performance and material as well as energy needs. Once we succeed in coming up with ideas of changing them with electrical or electromechanical ones, we make progress in making the product better and cheaper. Let’s look into the evolution of major industrial products. Invariably, each of them benefited from such ideas. For example, the replacement of mechanical switches with electromechanical relays made many products better and also cheaper. As a matter of fact, the electric vehicle is the application of such ideas.
Replace mechanical, electrical, and electrotechnical components with electronics
This is a great area for generating ideas for addressing our conflicting variables—making products better and cheaper. For example, the change of the telephone’s rotary dial with pushbutton made the telephone set lighter and less complex to use. As a matter of fact, the journey of the generation of ideas for this purpose led to the Transistor’s invention. Subsequently, it created the journey of redesigning many industrial products to make them better and less material and energy-consuming. For example, Sony turned a bulky cabinet top radio into a portable one.
Transfer of roles from physical devices to software–an emerging opportunity of systematically generating innovative ideas
Let’s look at our mobile phones. The replacement of the physical keyboard and stylus with software features has made significant progress in addressing our mission. There are many such examples in most of the industrial products, starting from microwave ovens, television, automobile to airplanes. However, the implementation of these ideas needs upfront R&D costs. However, the zero cost of software offers an immense scale advantage. Moreover, core software development ideas offer scope advantage, resulting in decreasing marginal cost of innovation. Such ideas are changing the business model of major industries, including automobiles.
Delegation of roles from human to machine
Ideas for delegating roles from humans to machines in both operating and making products play a vital role in our mission of systematically generating innovative ideas. On the one hand, human beings would like to reduce engagement in getting jobs done. It’s at the core of productivity. On the other hand, human beings’ role as operators is the source of errors, often causing accidents. Hence, systematically generating innovative ideas focuses on reducing human roles in using products. With the idea of reducing the human role in making products, we lower cost, reduce errors, and also improve quality. As a matter of fact, this line of ideas is at the core of robotics and automation. Such role delegation is leading to cyber-physical systems or artificially intelligent machines driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Ideas for integration for reducing the number of parts
Technology advancement is allowing us to generate ideas for reducing the number of parts counts. The reduction of parts count leads to higher quality, less cost, and also lower energy needs. Over the last 70 years, electronic and computer products have been benefiting from it by packaging a growing number of transistors on the same silicon area. The recent development of the 3D printer has opened a new era of generating ideas for reducing the number of even mechanical parts. For example, with the ideas of 3D printing, at GE, “Engineers reduced the number of parts in a jet engine fuel nozzle from 20 to one, leading to a 25 percent weight reduction and reduced assembly times.”
Ideas for redesigning components for leveraging scale and scope advantage
Economies of Scale and scope advantages are highly important in the competition space. Ideas for redesigning parts and products so that the same parts could be used in multiple products increase the scale advantage. To take the advantage further, innovators are also focusing on scope advantage by developing a family of products. At the core success of Apple or Toyota, scope advantage is playing a vital role. However, we need to focus on systematically generating innovative ideas for leveraging this opportunity. Hence, mere creativity or brainstorming for generating a flow of ideas is not enough.
Ideas for compatibility and 3rd party component plugin
On the one hand, individual products need to work as part of a larger system. On the other hand, the 3rd party component plug-ins increase the Utility of products. For example, we find additional utility by downloading a useful app. Similarly, the compatibility of the TV to get plugged in with a smartphone, computer or camera help us to get the job done better. Careful observations reveal that most of the industrial products are getting incrementally better by integrating such ideas.
Ideas for leveraging externality effects–must not be overlooked in systematically generating innovative ideas
Our systematically generating innovative ideas should focus on ideas to keep increasing the utility of our innovations with customer base growth. Particularly, software-centric innovation, ubiquitous wireless connectivity, and the trend of IoTs are opening an increasing opportunity for ideas for leveraging this aspect of innovation. For example, great success stories like FB or Google are due to the clever leveraging of ideas for creating externality effects.
Ideas for making aesthetically pleasing and easier to use
Along with functionality, we should also look for ideas for making products, and user interfaces aesthetically pleasant. We should also take advantage of ideas by simplifying user interfaces. It does not necessarily mean reducing the number of features. Instead, we should look into the intuitive aspect that reduces the human role. For example, GUI-based interfaces offered many features. However, users found it easier to use as opposed to using only one feature, which was typing commands. We should focus on ideas for reducing both cognitive and physical roles in using products.
Once we absorb this 10-pronged approach and start practicing them in a disciplined manner, it’s highly likely that ordinary practitioners will start showing extraordinary performance in producing ideas, which matter for making products better and less costly to produce. Hence, systematically generating innovative ideas matters in the journey to profit from ideas. However, we should integrate this approach within the Unified Theory of Innovation to address other issues in an integrated and consistent manner.