Stanford Quarterly Co – DSC06

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I have to say, when I receive my Stanford Deign School Quarterly Co shipments it feels a little bit like early Christmas.  I did an introductory post on the shipments, but essentially the boxes are created by Stanford Dschool to give you a peek inside their design thinking methodologies and activities.

This month the challenge read as follows, “Your challenge is to construct a light sculpture using the elements provided.  Vary the number of pieces you use and you’ll discover both a different product and process.”  This particular activity has been part of the “Creative Gym” class at the dSchool so it was exciting to have it sitting on my kitchen table.  Inside the box there was a socket and identically shaped and sized inter-lockable plastic pieces.

I definitely underestimated the difficulty of the challenge (luckily I had a whole Saturday afternoon to attempt it).  I played around with the pieces and made a few different shapes.  At first I thought there was one answer for how to interlock them, and while true (straight edge to curved edge), there were many ways to connect the pieces differently.  I ultimately decided I would try to use them all in a pattern where each “corner” had 5 interlocking edges.  While I thought I was making a more spherical shape, what resulted was more of a “cranium” but I think this was appropriate given how much this challenge stretched my mind so I decided to keep it.

It was amazing how many different outcomes could result from seemingly identical inputs used in different ways, overall a great innovation lesson.

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HBR “On Innovation”

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If you are new to the study of Innovation, HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Innovation is a fantastic place to start.  Like HBR’s other 10 Must Reads, this book features the top articles on innovation from some of the field’s greatest minds.  The book covers topics ranging from specific methods for innovation development and management to how to drive more innovation within large organizations.  The articles are engaging and can easily be picked up over multiple sittings.

I’ve included the titles of the included articles and some of my favorite key points on each:

The Innovation Catalysts by Roger L. Martin 

The book starts out with this great article focused on how Intuit leveraged design thinking throughout the company to move from “satisfying customers to delighting them”.  There are a number of really interesting tactics that intuit put into play from creating a team of 9 design thinking coaches or Innovation Catalysts to create prototypes and learn from customers to a “painstorming” exercise to understand the customer to hosting a series of jams to quickly prototype solutions to customer problems.

Stop the Innovation Wars by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble

This article focuses in on the role of the “innovation team” and often the resulting conflict these groups have with the company at large, where often the Innovators as seen as undisciplined creatives and the rest of the business as ‘bureaucratic dinosaurs’.  The authors propose a simple test or set of questions to help companies decide the appropriate structure of an innovation team such as the capabilities, the composition and the governance/resources around the team.

How GE is Disrupting Itself by Jeffrey Immelt, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble

This article highlights a case study by GE focused on reverse engineering from emerging markets back to developed markets that often seems counter intuitive to organizations but can actually result in large innovations.  GE reinvented product lines, established a new local growth team model to capitalize and identify these opportunities and challenged their basic assumptions on the role of emerging markets in their business.

The Customer-Centered Innovation Map by Lance Bettencourt and Antony Ulwick

This article introduced a tool for identifying new offerings aligned to customer needs.  The basic premise is to instead of using traditional ‘process mapping’ you instead ‘job map’ for customers to identify what jobs or needs they are trying to satisfy .  This can be a powerful tool for solving customer needs in novel ways.

Is It Real? Can We Win? Is It Worth Doing? by George Day

This article focuses in on the risk/reward profile of an innovation portfolio.  Up front the author mentions some startling facts such as the fact that only 14% of new product launches were substantial innovation but those accounted for 61% of profit from across all innovations.  In order to find this balance between risky disruption and reward the author outlines two tools, the first being a risk matrix and the second being the R-W-W test.  The risk matrix is relatively standard and can help ensure a portfolio is well balanced across disruptive and incremental innovations  The R-W-W test walks through the questions “is it real” or does it have a substantial market and a product feature set that is feasible, “can we win” or can the product/company be competitive, and lastly “is it worth doing” which highlights the profitability and strategic benefits.

Six Myths of Product Development by Stefan Thomke and Donald Reinertsen

This article highlights the biggest fallacies around successful product development.  The assumptions that are challenged center around not treating product development like a manufacturing process.  My favorite false assumptions include “The more features a product has, the better customers will like it” and “Projects will be more successful if teams ‘get it right the first time'”.

Innovation: The Classic Traps by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

This article starts with a fantastic sentence, “Innovation is back at the top of the corporate agenda. Never a fad, but always in or out of fashion […]”. The focus is on sustainable innovation and not falling into traps that have been found previously.  The traps include mistakes from strategy, process, structure, and skills as it relates to innovation and the author outlines a number of steps and lessons learned that can be used to avoid them.

Discovery-Driven Planning by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMilan

The Discovery-Driven planning method outlined in this article is one of my favorite methods.  It seeks to minimize risk in new ventures by reversing the traditional planning methods and to challenge basic assumptions.  The article uses Disney’s European operations as a case study of how poor assumptions and top down planning led to failure and how by leveraging reverse planning or a reverse balance sheet you can better identify assumptions and determine viability of an idea.

The Discipline of Innovation by Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker is one of my favorite thinkers within Innovation and this article does not fall short.  Peter argues that innovation capability is less based on traits or personality and more based on the “systematic practice of innovation.”  He outlines some areas you can look to have a ‘conscious, purposeful search for opportunities” that result in success.

Innovation Killers by Clayton Christensen, Stephen Kaufman and Willy Shih

This article focuses on why traditional financial tools kill innovation.  Specifically, the authors look at Discounted Cash Flows, fixed and sunk cost evaluations and impact on earnings per share as poor measures to use when evaluating new ventures..  They also explore stage gates and the negative impact these can have on innovation.

You can buy the book from Amazon here