More or less, all major industrial products, whether hardware or software, have been evolving. Are random or free flow of ideas have been supporting this evolution. Or, are there strategic areas of ideas for reinnovation in a systematic manner? The invention, innovation, and evolution analysis indicates that there are reoccurring strategic areas from which innovators are systematically generating ideas. Such a systematic idea generation is a vital capability for supporting the evolution, and most importantly, to sustain the innovation in the market. Hence, there has been profit-making competition in exploring strategic areas of ideas for reinnovation.
The dissection of the past and present dynamics of major innovations indicates that there 14 strategic areas for ideas for reinnovation. As opposed to random occurrence of creative sparks, ideas have been dipping from these strategic areas—forming a stream of ideas. Moreover, generating ideas often focuses on human-machine interfaces and externally visible features. Design Thinking often focuses on this aspect of idea generation. However, beneath the surface, products have been going through endless evolution. How to get those ideas does not often get priority in commonly practiced ideation sessions.
1. Empathy for getting jobs done better—Design Thinking
The advancement of technology, deeper understanding of customer preferences, changing situations and infrastructure, growing availability of complementary products, and increasing response from the competition are opening the opportunity of reinnovation. It primarily focuses on ideas for adding new features, reorganizing existing features, subtracting or merging features, multiplying features, and enhancing existing ones. Ideas from dipping from empathy keep making the innovation increasingly more useful in helping customers to perform their jobs better. Hence, most of the products are evolving through the growing as well as changing nature of features.
2. Replace mechanical and electromechanical parts or electronics
In the 1930s, AT&T was facing the problem of reliability and high cost of operation in providing telephone services to a growing number of American households and offices. The electromechanical switch was the underlying cause. Hence, At&T management urged the scientists at the Bell labs to invent a technology for innovating telephone switches, which would require no moving parts. As we know, it led to the invention of the Transistor—a solid-state switch. This invention has underpinned the telephone switch innovation and, most importantly, fueled the IT revolution. Careful analysis indicates that the evolution of many industrial products is due to the flow of ideas for replacing mechanical and electrotechnical parts with electronics. Starting from rotary nob to computer hard disk, the list appears to be endless. It has been one of the important strategic areas for ideas for reinnovation of many products.
3. Reduce the number of parts and pursue integration
Ideas for reducing the number of parts and pursuing integration have been playing a vital role in reinnovation. For example, ideas for integration of discrete components is a core strategic area of innovation. It has led to the formation of more than a billion transistors on a single chip. Innovators are in a race of ideas for application-specific integrated circuits for reinnovating existing products, starting from TVs to Computers. Moreover, even pure mechanical products are also benefiting from ideas of reducing the number of parts—particularly due to 3D printing.
For example, as reported in the media, rather than 20 pieces welded together, GE’s jet engine’s new fuel injection tip is a single elegant piece. It weighs 25 percent less than its predecessor and is five times more durable and 30 percent more cost-efficient. Like GE, many other firms have been reinnovating their products through ideas for reducing the number of parts.
4. Replace the role of HW with software—a strategic area for ideas for reinnovation
Seventy years, more or less, no industrial products had any software component. In the 1940s, small prices or software used to run on large computers. However, over the last 70 years, there has been a steady increase in the role of software in many products. Starting from automobile to microwave oven, the list is endless. Moreover, more or less all industrial production processes are having an increasing role of software. Furthermore, some of the industrial products have been completely taken over by software. Among others, the typewriter is a notable example. Hence, generating ideas for replacing the role of hardware with software is one of the strategic areas for ideas for reinnovation.
5. Delegate more roles from human to machine, for both products and processes.
Ideas for delegating roles from human to the machine is a very powerful reoccurring pattern in the evolution of products. To serve the purpose better, human beings prefer the innovation to be increasingly autonomous. Ideas along this line not only increase productivity but also increases the level of comfort and accuracy. Hence, in driving from automobile to flying aircraft, there has been decreasing roles of human. On the other hand, the reduction of the human role in production contributes to higher quality, lower cost, and productivity. Thus ideas for delegation of roles from human to machine are very useful in evolving innovations.
6. Develop a part that could be used in multiple products for increasing the economies of scale advantage
Instead of building product-specific components, the focus should be on generating ideas for making the same part useable in multiple products. For example, the use of the same image sensor in multiple products such as mobile phones and DSLR cameras increases the economies of scale advantage. Producing ideas for increasing the economies of scale advantage also supports additional R&D for improving component level performance.
7. Perform commonality analysis and develop core reusable assets for enjoying economies of scope advantage
Instead of developing a product from scratch, ideas should focus on developing related products as a family. Commonality and variation analysis on requirements among the family members open the door for developing common core asset ideas. These common assets are used to develop product-specific components and sub-systems. For example, Apple’s iPod, iPad, iPhone, and iMac are based on the same core software assets. Similarly, Toyota has been pursuing this strategy in developing a family of cars, as opposed to developing each car from scratch.
8. Use standard off the shelf components to maximize benefit from the scale
The reinnovation strategy should also focus on generating ideas for redesigning products for increasing the use of standard off the self-components. As a result, the evolution benefits from the increasing economies of scale advantage. For this reason, Apple has been sourcing most of the physical components from the 3rd party component suppliers. Ideas for Blackbox design of components are also useful for increasing the use of off the shelf components.
9. Reduce the complexity of making for opening the opportunity of role delegation from human to machine
Generating ideas of redesign for reducing the complexity in making the product plays an important role. On the one hand, it reduces defects, labor and machine time, and testing cost. On the other hand, ideas along this line keep expanding the scope of delegating those roles to machines. Some of the ideas are along the line of self-aligning and self-testing. Modular design and ideas for Blackbox also reduce complexity. Ideas of redesign for requiring less knowledge and skill of the workers are also useful in simplifying the making process.
10. Make it easier for 3rd party component plugin, opening the externality effect
The utility of a product could be extended further by having the option of 3rd party component plugins. To avail this opportunity, ideas for reinnovation for expanding the scope of 3rd party component plugins keep expanding the perceived value, even after leaving the factory. For this reason, Apple adopted the idea of Apple’s app store. Significant products, including TVs and automobiles, are being redesigned for opening the window of connecting an increasing number of products.
11. Reduce the scope of making errors in making as well as using the product
Ideas for making products error-proof are useful for making successive versions better and cheaper in both making and using. Generating ideas for this purpose demands empathy, both for the users and makers. It requires careful analysis of different situations in which humans, as users or makers, will likely make errors. Redesign ideas should keep digging out those scenarios for generating meaningful ideas. Due to its immense importance, subversive versions of most of the products are able to deal with variations and stupid mistakes human beings will likely make.
12. Reduce assembling, dismantling, configuring, repairing, and recycling complexity
Ideas for the redesign for reducing the complexity of assembling, dismantling, configuring, repairing, and recycling are immensely important. Successive redesigns, ideas are being used to make it easier to assemble and also dismantle. Ideas are being incorporated in products for empowering products to reconfigure by themselves. Particularly, software-centric ideas are making successive versions of products having the self-configuring capability.
13. Reduce the material, energy, weight, and space need
The redesign of products for reducing material, energy, weight, and space has been demanding focused ideas. For example, the aerospace industry has been conducting R&D on ideas around carbon fiber for reducing the weight of aircraft. Similarly, electric battery makers are after search for ideas for reducing material need and space need for storing same unit of energy.
14. Take the advantage of connectivity for creating network externality and system effects
The ubiquitous cellular network has been encouraging ideas for creating network externality effect. Moreover, ideas of connectivity are also turning each industrial product into an integral part of a larger system. For example, redesign of utility meters with connectivity and turning them into the internet of things (IoTs), has made those meters integrated parts of utility delivery and bill collection. Such connectivity could be harnessed to create the externality effect—called the demand-side economy of scale effect. For example, Facebook or Google became a monopoly for exploiting ideas for creating network externality effect. As a result, their products’ perceived value has been increasing with the growth of the customer base.
Although ideas are perceived to be sudden creative burst, smart firms have been consistently exploring each of these strategic areas for ideas of reinnovation. As a result, they have developed a disciplined approach to producing ideas and integrating them into products and processes to create predictable economic value out of ideas. Such reality opens the opportunity for aspiring individuals, firms, and countries to enter into the evolution race of existing products. As a matter of fact, among others, Japan is a notable example. Therefore, producing economic value from ideas appears to be a professional practice, which could be learned and practiced. Hence, it offers the opportunity to every aspiring country to open the door for creating economic value from ideas—in addition to labor and natural resources.