Publications by

Amnon Levav

Amnon Levav

Amnon spent the last 22 years in 30+ countries, helping people and companies determine their future by imagining viable alternatives to their current way of thinking and doing. Amnon’s experience ranges from startups to multinationals, and he is especially passionate about social innovation

A Systematic Approach to Process Efficiency

Published on: July 24, 2018 в 11:08 am

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SIT’s Approach to Process Efficiency

There are quite a few methods to enhance productivity and increase process efficiency. Some notable examples are 6-Sigma, Kaizen and Lean. Most of these methods are highly effective at identifying waste and redundancy, and pointing out where you need to cut, focus, or streamline. This leads very often to substantial savings and gains in efficiency. Unfortunately, as much as these methods excel at identifying where to save, they are seldom helpful in prescribing how to do so. When it comes to leading their users to ideate about potential alternatives or solutions to current wasteful practices, practically all productivity methods resort to… Brainstorming.

But, as research and practice has repeatedly and consistently established, Brainstorming is not an effective means for generating truly novel yet viable solutions.

In other posts, like Busting the Brainstorming Myth and How Effective is DT as an Innovation Methodology?, we have described some of the major faults of the BS method for ideation. Here, we will just briefly mention that BS tends to produce either unexciting ideas that are not new, or exciting ideas that are not viable. This is the point SIT – Systematic Inventive Thinking comes into play. As opposed to BrainStorming, SIT is a structured process calling for disciplined ideation within well-defined constraints. By changing the problem solver’s mindset, this process consistently leads to novel and effective approaches to problems and challenges.

Paradoxically, SIT requires that you focus on existing resources and capabilities (which is why the method is also referred to as “Innovating Inside the Box”), learning to use them in novel ways by breaking your so-called “Mental Fixednesses.” The method is therefore especially apt for constrained environments or systems defined by strict engineering requirements.

Here are some brief case studies that highlight how relatively small shifts in perspective, achieved through a structured process, can lead to substantially increased process efficiency.

HAVI –  Opening a Bottleneck with No Additional Resources

 

HAVI is one of Asia Pacific’s largest logistics companies. At their depots in China, HAVI faced a consistent problem: delivery truck arrival times were frustratingly unpredictable, causing a slew of issues. For example, sometimes multiple trucks would arrive at the same time. And, since Havi had a limited number of truck unloaders, truck drivers spent unnecessary time waiting for their trucks to be unloaded. To avoid this process bottleneck, HAVI needed to find a way to streamline the unloading process.

HAVI considered various solutions, but none were cost-effective. They considered, for example, extending the warehouse to add docking space for extra trucks, but realized this renovation project would be prohibitively expensive and not necessarily tackle the workforce aspect of the problem. They also considered hiring a temporary workforce during busy periods. However, since the busy periods were often unpredictable, it would be impossible to foresee when the workers would be needed.

The Right Incentive

Using SIT’s thinking tool, Task Unification, which assigns a new and additional task to an existing resource, HAVI came up with a creative idea to improve their warehouse’s process efficiency: truck drivers arriving to the warehouse were offered the option of unloading the trucks themselves. Initially, this idea seemed totally untenable, as the drivers, it was believed, would certainly refuse to take on an additional and arduous task. But, after giving the option some thought, the Problem Solving Team realized that, given the right framework, the drivers would actually be more than happy to comply. With less downtime on the job, additional pay for the extra task, and more control over their schedule, the drivers had everything to gain.

 

By incentivizing drivers to unload the trucks and paying them for the time they spent unloading, HAVI utilized its existing workforce to solve its problem. Since drivers no longer needed to wait for unloaders, they could unload their trucks immediately, resulting in reduced time and quick turnover. By using SIT’s structured thinking process, HAVI managed to save time and money, while eliminating a problematic bottleneck.

Teva Pharmaceuticals – Doubling Production Capacity – Now!

Teva, an Israeli pharmaceutical company, experienced a surge in demand for a specific drug, to which we will refer here as Drug A, when a rival company went bankrupt and could no longer deliver it to market. As new clients approached Teva for Drug A, the company realized that they had an incredible opportunity to grow their business quickly. However, to do so, and ensure retained interest from the new clients, Teva had to double capacity in two weeks’ time. The issue, however, was that the manufacturing line for Drug A was already working at full capacity. While prior attempts to increase capacity had resulted in a 15% production increase, Teva needed a more drastic change.

Drug Cocktail?

 

In order to double production quickly without significantly changing their process, Teva turned to SIT and its systematic methodology. Using SIT’s Closed World Principle, which states that solutions to a problem can be generated focusing on existing resources, the Problem Solving Team collectively listed all the elements within the production line and its vicinity (the production line’s “Closed World”).

Through a mapping process, the Teva team first identified that the greatest challenge in dramatically increasing production with the current production line (let’s call it PL-A) was one of the stages of the process, Stage 7. At the same time, the team also came to an initially counter-intuitive concept: that they could consider as part of the Closed World, another, adjacent line: PL-B, in which a different drug was being produced.

By analyzing each of these production lines and their processes, the Teva team arrived at a novel idea. It appeared that PL-B had a stage that was very similar to PL-A’s Stage 7 (the bottleneck). But, as opposed to the situation in PL-A, this stage in PL-B was actually working at only half its capacity! The ensuing solution was as simple as it was surprising: the team redesigned the PL-A process so that immediately after Stage 6, half of the ‘material’ on the Production Line was diverted to the neighboring PL-B, taking advantage of PL-B’s excess capacity in the relevant stage. After finishing Stage 7, the material was immediately rediverted back to PL-A to continue the regular Production Line A process to its conclusion (see diagram below). By using the adjacent Production Line’s (PL-B) capacity, Teva was able to double production with a minimal investment. This occurred almost immediately, giving Teva exactly what the company needed to match market demand for its drug.

 

Complement your Toolbox with a Counter-Intuitive Approach to Productivity and Process Efficiency

Most companies strive to improve process efficiency and enhance productivity. There is always some way to function faster, use fewer resources, or produce less waste. Traditional methods are effective in leading you to do so – but only to a certain extent. These methods usually point out where you need to act but fall short in helping you come up with novel ideas of how to do so. Using specific thinking tools and principles, SIT can do just that, helping you take full advantage of existing resources in surprising and innovative ways, ultimately leading to Productivity Through Innovation

How to Choose an Innovation Consulting Firm

Published on: July 3, 2018 в 10:46 am

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Categories: Uncategorized

The Innovation Consulting Firm Landscape

 

The innovation consultancy landscape has become immensely complex, dynamic, and varied in the last several years, especially when discussing quantity. There are a variety of methodologies, approaches, as well as consultancies of all sizes. McKinsey and large accounting firms have made acquisitions of innovation consulting firms, which means the distinction between the mega-consultancies and the more boutique consultancies has become blurred.

Since the innovation consulting firm atmosphere is so dense, there are some common sense rules of thumb one must use when choosing an innovation consulting firm. Luckily, our good friend, Drew Boyd, created a list of criteria that you can utilize when choosing an innovation consulting firm.  However, due to the richness of the current marketplace and the dynamic approach, some of this list is no longer relevant. While this may be the case, it still includes a lot of useful advice. The below advice and tools will help you make an informed and educated decision when choosing an innovation consulting firm.

Choosing Innovation Consultants

By: Drew Boyd

Choosing an innovation consulting firm is challenging for two reasons: the client is not always clear what type of innovation they want, or they are not sure what type of innovation a consultant offers.

Here are three factors to consider when choosing an innovation consultant:

1.  TYPE of consultant

2.  METHOD used

3.  ROLE of the consultant.

The innovation space has become so crowded that I group them into four types (I-D-E-A):

INVENTION:  These are consultants that help you create new-to-the-world ideas.  They have a particular expertise in creativity methods or idea generation tools.  Their main focus is the generation of many new product or service ideas.

DESIGN:  These are consultants that take an existing product, service, or idea and put some new, innovative form to it.  They have a particular expertise in industrial design or human factors design.  Their main focus is transforming the way a product is used or experienced.

ENGINEERING:  These are consultants that help you make the new idea work in practice.  They have a particular expertise in technology, science, research, and problem-solving.  Their main focus is building it.

ACTUALIZATION:  These are consultants that help you get the innovation into the marketplace.  They have a particular expertise in marketing processes, brand, or commercial launch of a product or service.  Their main focus is selling it.

Step One: The challenge is many consultants claim to be all of these.  While true for some, my sense is that all firms started off as one type and then expanded to cover the others.  The question to ask yourself is: would you be better off matching your need to their original core expertise, or would you be better off going to a one-stop shop…a firm that can do it all even though their core expertise is, say, design.  How do you know what type the firm really is?  Study the biography of their founder.  What was the founder’s education, experience, work background, interests, etc?  The founder is where the core orientation of the firm begins.  The other practice types get bolted on later.

Step Two is understanding their method.  The first question I ask consultants is, “Do you know how to innovate?”  The second question is, “How?”  I want to understand their method of innovation, and I want to be able to explain it to other people.  I want to know the efficacy.  Has it worked in the past and will it work on my project?  Show me the data.

Step Three is understanding the role of the innovation consultant.  Is this a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach, where you are given some software or other resources to create innovation on your own?  Is this a DIWY (do-it-with-you) approach where the consultant leads and facilitates groups of your employees to innovate together?  Is this a DIFY (do-it-for-you) approach, where the consultant takes your problem specification and comes back with their recommended solutions?  Or, is this training?  All of these roles are valid depending on your need.

I am impressed with the talent and variety of the consultants in the innovation space today.  It becomes even more impressive when you select the right one for the job.

I hope the above will help you in finding the right innovation consultancy. Since we are always on the look-out for the right clients to work with, here is a short questionnaire. Please fill in and, if relevant, we can have a short 20-minute chat to see if we can fit each other’s needs. We look forward to hearing from you.

How Effective is Design Thinking as an Innovation Methodology?

Published on: April 16, 2018 в 3:02 pm

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Categories: Brainstorming,Creativity,Uncategorized

A few years ago, I took part in a Design Thinking workshop. My first impression: the room was a mix between an atelier and a day-care facility for children. So, initially, I thought, this is going to be fun!

Our task was simple – we split into groups of two. We needed to design a new wallet for our partner. First, I interviewed my partner. Then, I came up with a variety of different wallet models, which I then presented to him. Based on his feedback, I built a prototype of my best idea and consulted with him again. My result was an impressive and futuristic wallet – a piece of advanced technology – and indeed, the process was enjoyable.

Like most people that apply this innovative method, I enjoyed the process. The wider question, however, is: How useful is Design Thinking for generating ideas?

 

What is Design Thinking (DT)?

 

Innovation methodology design thinking

 

 

Searching for “Design Thinking” on Google, we get 32,700,000 hits. But you don’t need to see more than the first few results to get the gist.  Although there are quite a few definitions, the majority are based on the following five steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test.

And indeed, it’s not surprising to see that these five steps are the core of Design Thinking. According to the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, the birthplace of this innovation methodology, this is how the steps are defined:

  • Empathize: In the first step, you “view the users and their behavior in the context of their lives.” You “engage” with the users and “experience what they experience.”
  • Define: In the second step, you “unpack and synthesize your empathy findings into compelling needs and insights.” Based on a deep understanding of the user, you come up with an “an actionable problem statement.” That is, we clearly define what we wish to create.
  • Ideate: Now it is time to ideate and “generate radical design alternatives.” Similar to brainstorming, the goal is both a “large quantity of ideas and a diversity among those ideas.”
  • Prototype: Prototyping means “getting ideas and explorations out of your head and into the physical world.” The idea is to perceive and interact with your idea. In the beginning of a project, prototyping goes “rough and rapid” and later becomes more detailed with your progress.
  • Test: The fifth step includes testing your prototypes and getting feedback about your solutions. This is a chance to “refine your solutions to make them better and continue to learn about your users.”

Two Tough Questions

These five steps constitute the basic formula of the Design Thinking innovation methodology. Due to its apparent simplicity and clarity, the method is extremely appealing. It’s no wonder then that Design Thinking has become such a buzzword, so much so that it is often used as a synonym for innovation.

However, two essential questions arise:

  • Do users of DT compare it to alternative innovation methodologies and find it superior? Or is it selected for merely being the only game in town? We claim that the latter is the case, i.e. DT is more placebo than remedy.
  • Let’s assume then that DT is fun, easy to use, and provides useful customer insights. However, is it effective for changing the way people think and helping them generate new ideas? As we explain below, the answer is negative: DT is not designed to help create novel concepts.

To the first question, here is our recommendation. One must not compare Design Thinking to a complete lack of systematic methodology. Rather, one should consider other innovation methodologies and evaluate DT in relation to them.

 

Does Design Thinking Have a Flawed Core?

  1. Empathize: Engage with users and view their contextual behavior.
  2. Define: Come up with insights and understand the user.
  3. Ideate: Brainstorm, get a large quantity of ideas.
  4. Prototype: Perceive and interact with your idea.
  5. Test: Test and get feedback, refine to make better.

Reviewing the five steps in this innovation methodology, it is immediately obvious that the central element, the core of the entire process, is the middle step: Ideate. At the end of the day, the entire point of the exercise is to think of new things, right? So, what does Design Thinking tell us we should do in order to generate new ideas?

We’ve collected plenty of useful insights in the first two stages of the process, and we have everything we need to develop great ideas except for one thing: a method to come up with the ideas. Behind all of the Design Thinking hype, there is a disappointing reality that Design Thinking’s ‘method’ for generating ideas is (not-so) good-old brainstorming.

 

The Weak Link in this Innovation Methodology

Of the five steps, the ideation phase is the only one where ideas are actually generated. The instructions are simple: Brainstorm. Try to think unconventionally. There is no bad idea.

But as is repeatedly established, brainstorming is not an effective way to generate ideas. Much is written about this topic by us and many others, so here we just mention three of the most common arguments:

  • Participants in BS sessions are encouraged to freely say what comes to mind, eliminating critical filters. As a result, sessions end with a large number of ideas. Of these ideas, very often, none turn out to have any practical value. In addition, those participants who could have raised objections in real time are (by definition) strongly encouraged not to do so.
  • Participants are instructed to associate freely. This means there is no mechanism to overcome functional fixedness, a natural bias of human thinking. This also happens to be the strongest barrier to creativity and innovation.
  • Group dynamics, such as groupthink and social insecurity, are well researched. They have consistently shown to inherently inhibit the creation of truly radical ideas in the absence of a structured mechanism.

With such a flawed core, DT cannot be an effective approach to innovation or innovation methodology. We, at SIT, are of course partial, since the very essence and entire trajectory of our past 22 years includes designing and refining a powerful alternative to brainstorming. And, indeed, we propose today a combination of the useful elements of Design Thinking paired with a powerful and effective method to generate ideas.

We promise to come back with more on this topic. Meanwhile, we invite you to share with us your experience using DT versus other innovation methodologies.

 

Why stop there? Continue reading and learn how to incentivize innovation in your company.

How to Embrace Failure Without Falling on Your Face

Published on: February 15, 2018 в 5:22 pm

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Categories: innovation strategy

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Many years ago, I presented what I considered to be a very cool project to an extremely smart VP of Marketing in a large B2C company on the East Coast of the US. Fortunately, she shared my enthusiasm, and the process of engaging us for the project was running along nicely. It was an ambitious and somewhat risky project in the sense that it required the involvement of about 20 high-level managers who were very skeptical about its chances of success. This put “my” VP in the stressful position of either ending up as the initiator of a notable success or being forever remembered as the perpetrator of a huge mistake (could she embrace failure?).

At some point, she asked me: “Can we make absolutely sure this will succeed?”And, silly me, I answered with a big smile: “Of course not. Don’t you remember? One of our key messages in this project is that if you innovate you must embrace the risk of failure. So since we are designing such an innovative project, of course there is a risk that it will fail.” Obviously, we didn’t get the project, because, regardless of the oft-quoted cliché, nobody really wants to “celebrate failures”. People want successes. And if there is one thing they will avoid at all costs, it is failure.

Embracing Failure, the Contradiction

There seems to be a contradiction: We want to think ahead. We want to try new things. We want to innovate and embrace failure as part of the inventive process. At the same time, we want to be in control of our outcomes. We cannot afford to make mistakes.

This leads to a dilemma: Companies encourage their employees to fail and learn. But they expect them not to fail.

Failures are at best unwanted – at worst systematically concealed, to avoid blame or punishment. Pressure is the means of control. The result: a fear of failure.

The prevalence of fear of failure in companies is alarming considering how paralyzing it can be for the companies’ development.

Three reasons for this troublesome effect:

Risk Aversion

Here is one cliché that is absolutely true: Failure is an essential part of innovation. When prototyping a new product, expect failure. That’s what prototypes are for, and that is why you will work on several consecutively, or even in parallel. Therefore, the maxim fails fast and try again.

But, if every failure is considered a mini-disaster, who wants to even consider risking it? Rather, the ultimate goal is to achieve full control of the process. Hence, any change or novel idea is treated as a potential threat.

Loser-phobia

If one strives to overcome one’s Cognitive Fixedness, a fundamental tool is the ability to reflect on one’s actions and to engage in metacognition (a reflection on one’s thinking processes). Every failure thus becomes a source of learning and a driver of change.

But, when your failures are perceived as a sign of being a “loser,” what are the chances that you will actually take the time to confront your failures, reflect on them, and draw useful conclusions?

Who? Me?

In cultures that do not truly accept failures, there is a strong incentive to underreport them and to avoid any public reference to them, let alone an open analysis.  This greatly increases, obviously, the probability that the same mistakes will be repeated. A good litmus test: Ask anyone who tells you that you should “embrace failure”, if they are willing to share a recent one of their own. Most chances are they won’t, and that tells you what you will be risking if you share yours.

You probably agree that it can be very beneficial to embrace failure in certain areas – in an honest and consistent manner. But in other areas, we cannot allow for mistakes. The point is, to make this distinction explicit and communicate it to everyone involved. Clarity is key.

Instead of pretending to universally embrace failure, you map out areas in which failing is acceptable. Then, you commit yourself to this map.

Here are some actions you may consider to embrace failure:

 

embrace failure

 

Mark your “control towers”

Imagine working in a control tower. There is obviously no way to embrace failures here. Imagine an airport with 5000 landings and take-offs per month. a mistake rate of 0.01% would imply 5 crashes per month.

There are such “control towers” in every company. In some areas, even if a leader doesn’t care to admit it, failure is not an option. Being explicit about your “control towers” is crucial, if you want people to avoid these specific mistakes at all costs. Only then, everyone is on the same page: We give our best to prevent failure and if it happens, we report it.

In other areas, the expectation might not be as clear. We suggest three mechanisms: define roles, draw lines and install safety nets.

When defining roles, you assign to a specific group of employees the role of innovators. It is then clear to everyone that this group will generate ideas, try new things – and occasionally fail. Your “innovators” will enjoy the freedom to explore and develop new ideas. At the same time, they will be accountable for their failures as part of the process.

Drawing lines means, defining which parts of a project are open to experimentation and those that are not. Within the defined lines, failure is acceptable. Innovation is welcome.

Safety nets are a similar idea, on a different level. To limit the impact of failures, you innovate in specific areas, e.g. those that are not part of your core business.

In defining roles, drawing lines and installing safety nets, we map out areas in which failures are acceptable. Only then we can truly claim: We embrace failure. Feel free to innovate.

In addition to the above actions, you can also utilize some advice from experts on the subject. 

Have a backup plan

Leon Ho says that it never hurts to have a back-up plan. The last thing you want to do is scramble for a solution when the worst has happened. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” This old adage holds solid wisdom. Having a backup plan gives you more confidence to move forward and take calculated risks.

Perhaps you’ve applied for a grant to fund an initiative at work. In the worst-case scenario, if you don’t get the grant, are there other ways you could secure the funds? There are usually multiple ways to tackle a problem, so having a back-up plan is a great way to reduce anxiety about possible failure.

Leon Ho (https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/how-fear-of-failure-destroys-success.html)

Identify the consequences

Theo Tsaousides says that in order to attenuate fear of failure, first identify the consequences of failing that scare you the most and evaluate your ability to deal with these consequences. Instead of talking yourself out of the fear by hoping that nothing negative will happen, focus on building confidence to deal with the consequences.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Which of these consequences scare you the most?
  • How much impact will they have on you? Are they merely unpleasant or life-threatening? Will they just make you feel uncomfortable, or will they hurt you deeply and irreparably?
  • How quickly will you move on? Are the consequences permanent or reversible? Are they short-lived, or will they linger forever?
  • How well can you handle them? Can you exercise damage control, or will you hide and disappear?

Theo Tsaousides (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201801/how-conquer-fear-failure)

Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge, it’s your turn: Tell us about YOUR experience in dealing with a Fear of Failure and check out one of our latest article on how to manage airtime!

How To Optimize Your Innovation Strategy by Making Your Idea a Sweet Idea

Published on: January 25, 2018 в 1:11 pm

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Categories: Creativity,innovation,innovation strategy

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What’s the perfect New Year’s Resolution? Hint: think about an innovation strategy..

(1) It’s not only challenging but actually promises a significant change in your life; (2) It’s not pie in the sky, but applicable to your daily life.

If your goal is to get in shape, watching TV while standing is maybe not the most effective initiative. However, regular mountain climbing is probably a bit of a stretch if you are a fairly immobile city dweller.

This is the Near-Far-Sweet Idea Mapping Model as applied to your daily life.

Near – ideas that are pretty close to current practice. They are new, but probably not impactful enough to be worth your attention.

Far –  exciting ideas, but not viable. Either the market is not ready to accept them, or you will not be able to implement them.

When optimizing your innovation strategy you want your ideas to be neither too close to home (“Near”) nor too challenging to be implementable (“Far”). You want your ideas to be new and exciting but at the same time realistic and useful. This is your Innovation Sweet Spot.

 

Learn How To Enhance Your Innovation Strategy By Using SIT Methodology:

This all sounds pretty obvious and common sense. Surprisingly, the distinction is often overlooked, or at least not given systematic treatment. Categorizing the results of an ideation session or workshop into Near, Far and Sweet – as seen in the visual below – will give you an important indication as to the practicality of the ideas. It can also be a useful tool to improve the outcomes of your innovation strategies, by pushing some Nears and Fars into the Sweet Spot.

But before we share a quick guide to applying NFS to NPD, here are some thoughts of how it can serve as a practical tool to support the “Dual Innovation Approach” as defined by Ralph-Christian Ohr. Ohr cites research that shows that the dual innovation approach is used by 70% of the most innovative companies:

[With Dual Innovation] innovation management follows a balanced portfolio approach. The entire innovation portfolio is divided into exploitation-oriented and exploration-oriented innovation initiatives, where the following characterizations hold:

  • Exploitation-oriented initiatives are related to running core business by executing and enhancing existing business models or technological capabilities. The primary direction of impact is value capturing (commercialization). Examples: Product, service or process innovation, portfolio extension, innovation of selected business model components (e.g. channel or operations), market research.
  • Exploration-oriented initiatives are related to developing future business by searching for novel, and often disruptive, business models or technological capabilities. The primary direction of impact is value creation (configuration). Examples: Business model development, platform/ecosystem innovation, basic technology research & development, startup engagement, innovation intelligence.

(https://dual-innovation.net/a-model-for-dual-corporate-innovation-management/) Ralph-Christian Ohr

 

Ralph-Christian further introduces three playing fields of dual innovation:

  • Optimize the Core (Optimization of existing business models and technologies)
  • Reshape the Core (Transformation of existing business models and/or scaling up new business models/technologies)
  • Create the New (Creation of new-to-the-company business models and Technologies)

(http://integrative-innovation.net/?p=1765) Ralph-Christian Ohr

 

Integrating Ideas

He then elaborates on the true challenge of dual innovation: neither developing extensions of the product/service portfolio within the existing business model, nor coming up with completely new ideas, but integrating new ideas into your existing innovation strategy:

When it comes to integration, most companies face huge problems. This is the space where two main activities need to be conducted to achieve business impact from innovation and to future-proof the existing business model:

  • Validated breakthrough or even disruptive innovation concepts need to be scaled up for achieving business impact. If a company does not master Scaling-Up there is a high chance that all ideation will remain only innovation theatre.
  • In the light of Digital Transformation, adapting the established core business models by innovating selected elements (e.g. platform strategies, x-as-a-service business models, bypassing the middle man or automatization of service processes) is mandatory. If a company does not master adaptation it risks to lose in Digital Transformation.

(http://integrative-innovation.net/?p=1765) Ralph-Christian Ohr

Ohr presents a challenge: strategic ideas ought to be transformed to have maximum impact – to be innovative enough but not too disruptive. Through the NFS model, the SIT (Systematic Inventive Thinking) methodology invites you to apply two principles that, together, cover both directions:

  1. Qualitative Change. Very often, “near” ideas are generated by incrementally improving on existing offerings, making them “bigger, faster, better”, i.e a quantitative change. The QC principle calls you to observe the basic logic of your product or service but change a fundamental relationship in this logical structure. Example: don’t offer your product at a discount, but offer it for free, generating revenue by a totally different business model. This is easier said than done, of course, but using the right tools, it allows you to push Near ideas into the Sweet Spot.
  1. Closed World. The second basic principle of SIT is rather counterintuitive: when innovating, try as much as possible to utilize only those elements that already exist in the system. Instead of reaching out of the box, innovate inside the box. Instead of searching for new elements, find new angles and possibilities in the existing ones. By applying several tools under this principle, you will be able to pull in some Far ideas, turning wishful thinking into viable options and improve your innovation strategy

So, here’s a NY’s resolution that hopefully resides within your Sweet Spot: Map your new ideas on an NFS diagram, consider whether enough of them are in the Sweet Spot, and then push and pull those that are not to create exciting but viable options for development of your innovation strategy. Enjoy.

Want to keep learning? Check out what you can learn from an innovation facilitation session.

13 Innovation Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make

Published on: January 17, 2018 в 2:17 pm

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Categories: innovation,Organizational Innovation

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Do you want to create an innovation-focused culture in your organization? Are you struggling to make organizational innovation a reality?

Are you tired of wondering why your team’s ideas don’t always seem to pan out as originally planned? Or do your team’s problems actually stem from the idea-generating phase?

There could be countless issues standing in the way of organizational innovation. But the truth is, most of these problems are well within your control to fix.

That is, only if you know where to look and how to solve them.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what today’s guide will help you do. We’ll be going over some of the most common mistakes companies make when it comes to organizational innovation, and indicate how you could go about correcting them.

Don’t Let These Mistakes Get in the Way of Your Organizational Innovation

To start, you’ll need to take a closer look at your basic approach to innovation.

You do have one, right?

If you’re shrugging your shoulders, let’s start by discussing this all-too common mistake first.

#1: You have no proper plan in place to support a culture of innovation

You want to create an environment that allows ideas to flourish naturally. That’s great, but so does everyone else.

So, what is your plan?

Without a proper plan in place, you can’t build an innovation-centric culture. It just doesn’t appear overnight or as soon as you say you are innovation-focused.

Instead, you must first create a plan and then brand it. Let’s see why this matters.

#2: You haven’t branded your innovation process

Though your first step may be building your plan, you also need to brand the entire process using a catchy name and a logo to make this abstract process tangible to your team.

It may sound gimmicky at first, but it’s proven time and again to be one of the major contributing factors helping teams successfully innovate.

The concept behind the idea is simple: By branding this process, you’re sending the message to your employees that you’re serious about innovation and you’re committed to it.

You’re also reinforcing the idea that innovation is now part of your culture, not just an afterthought. But caution! Correct this, and Mistake #3 may be rearing its ugly head.

organizational innovation

Examples

#3: You have created “Empty Branding”

Companies that heed the call to brand their processes often fall into the trap of spending large amounts of time and money on creating the hype, without backing this buzz with corresponding actions. Employees then start to wonder about the gap between declaration and practice, which often leads them to regard innovation with skepticism and conclude that top management is committed only to PR.

So, as you devise your branding and internal communications plan, two things must also happen simultaneously:

  1. Someone from your team needs to take ownership of the entire process
  2. Someone else should be consistently managing the team.

We’ll touch on both points next.

#4: No one has taken ownership of the process

It’s essential that someone take ownership of your innovation process.

Now, this does not mean they’re the only one working on the project. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

All hands are on deck. But the person in charge ensures that a system is in place, it’s branded and weaved into your culture, and it’s properly managed.

If you’re working with a small team, this person could also be the one managing the team as well.

Keep in mind, these are still two distinct roles and should be treated as such, otherwise, you’ll be making another costly mistake.

The ownership role ensures that the planning is done and the foundation is properly laid and in place.

The person in the management position ensures that your systems are working and running smoothly. And if they’re not, they’ll be the ones to make any necessary adjustments (more on this next).

#5: No one is managing innovation

Just because you create a system doesn’t mean it’s going to run on its own.

That’s why an innovation manager is key, and – depending on your organization’s size – her/his team.

This person helps foster and grow the seeds that have been planted in the initial approach.

To succeed, your innovation Manager(s) should use a “top-down/bottom-up” approach, involving both senior management and staff in programs and activities.

Your Manager and/or team will need clear assignment of roles and responsibilities, and the ability to monitor that the organizational innovation is actually happening according to plan.

But even with these measures in place, if you’re making this next mistake, these actions won’t matter as much as they should.

Organizational Innovation

#6: You’ve fostered an environment where people are scared to speak up for fear of criticism

In addition to ownership and management, your organization will also need people with facilitation capabilities.

These people help ensure that your employees feel comfortable speaking up — without fear of criticism or judgment.

During the group discussion, there will always be employees who speak up more often than others. But it’s essential that these team members don’t overrule the quiet ones.

If you’re creating an environment where people can’t speak up, they won’t. And some of your best ideas may never surface.

To, take breaks during discussions to moderate any employees who are taking over the conversation and encourage quiet team members to speak up without worrying about what anyone will think.

But expressing yourself and generating ideas is still only half the battle. You must also use them or you’ll be making this next error.

#7: You also lack proper systems to manage innovation in your organization

If you really want to see your team’s ideas take off, you need to figure out:

  • How you’re going to manage those ideas
  • How they will be put in place
  • How you’ll measure their viability
  • How you’ll gauge if something is working, needs to be scrapped, or just needs a slight tweak (more on this later)

Get these systems in place right away or your best ideas will slip through the cracks.

Speaking of ideas, the way your team ideates to come up with ideas could be another issue holding your innovation back.

#8: You’re still using traditional brainstorming-type methods

Are you still relying on the ol’ brainstorming technique where everyone sits around the conference table and tries to come up with ideas on-the-spot believing that “there’s no such thing as a bad idea”?

This is a huge mistake far too many organizations seem to be making. And their growth — or lack thereof — shows it.

We touched on this in detail in this article so we won’t spend too much time here today.

In short, ideation sessions require structure and discipline, if you want to break out of existing paradigms and biases.

To do this, you must focus on what you already know (“inside the box”) and then you must look at the problem from a different angle, which is also the next most common mistake on our list.

innovation mistakes

#9: You’re looking at the problem from the same angle every time

If you’re looking at a problem the same way every time, you’re always going to get the same results.

Take a step back and try to attack the problem head on using what you know and the fact that your current angle is not working.

If you’ve tried to solve the problem from all sides, maybe you’ve been working on the wrong problem altogether.

#10: You haven’t mapped out the real problem first

If you’re stuck on the same issue and keep wondering why you’re not making any progress, you must ask yourself, “Are we sure this is really the problem?

Chances are, it might not be.

Start creating systems to solve the wrong problem and you’ll be wasting everyone’s time.

So, before you dive into different angles to the same problem, you must first identify that you’re truly tackling the real issue at hand, not one posing as the problem.

Only when you correctly identify your true problem can you put your team’s skills to work on fixing it. There are tools that will help you do just that, and, surprise – finding the root cause is not necessarily the right way to go about it. Actually, it seldom is. Another common issue: you may not be giving your team the tools they need to succeed.

#11: You don’t give your team the tools to succeed

Even if you uncover your team’s strengths, if they don’t have what they need to get the job done, your innovation efforts will be wasted. Managers often erroneously assume that if they just put in the relevant incentives – carrots or sticks – their people will be driven to innovate. But no amount of motivation will help people who simply lack the skills and capabilities to innovate. And these can be acquired, using the right methods.

And not only are the tools available, employees can become adept at using them, and can dramatically improve their organizational innovation capabilities with practice and dedication.

Besides giving your team everything they need to succeed, you also need to encourage communication and cooperation — especially if you have different departments working independently.

#12: Your organization is divided into silos

When business units do not communicate or collaborate, it is easy to lose sight of key insights, miss opportunities for synergies, and greatly decrease the probability of implementing meaningful projects.

Though this may occur in many ways within an organization, it is especially detrimental when it comes to organizational innovation. So, focus on fostering communication and teamwork.

Now, what happens when you create a plan, implement ideas from your team, and still don’t achieve the results you were hoping for?

Do you consider your team’s efforts a failure?

#13: If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed

Creating a culture of innovation cannot be achieved without a few failed attempts at implementing new ideas under your belt.

But it’s how you deal with these ideas that matters more than if the actual idea was a total flop.

So many organizations chalk the first (and only) loss as a sign that the idea failed and all others will fail like it. But this isn’t always the case.

You may only need a few small tweaks for your idea to be a huge hit and avoid innovation mistakes. Building on what didn’t work will only lead to stronger concepts.

If you’re not careful, you’re bound to toss out good ideas simply because the first run didn’t go quite as smooth as planned. And that will cost you.

Improve Your Innovation Efforts Today-Avoid Innovation Mistakes

Now that you understand some of the most common innovation mistakes when it comes to organizational innovation, you’re ready to solve them like a pro.

Start by assessing your foundation. Do you have an innovation plan in place? Is it branded? Do you have someone who oversees, manages, and moderates it?

If you don’t have answers to those questions, this is your first place to start. Readers who have all of those things in order are ready to refine their system.

Upgrade your brainstorming sessions and implementation processes. Do you have systems created to generate new ideas and implement those that do come in? In this article, we provide valuable systematic tips for implementing an effective brainstorming process.

When you identify the real problem, and tackle it from a new angle using your team’s skills, you’ll have a clear game plan and know exactly which tools your employees need to get the job done.

3 Extremely Useful Lessons to Learn from an Innovation Facilitation Session

Published on: November 1, 2017 в 9:58 am

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Categories: innovation,innovation facilitation

Several years ago, I facilitated a New Product Development workshop (innovation facilitation session) at a large corporation in the American Midwest.  At our insistence, a Sales Manager was added to the team.  Why did his presence require an effort? Pulling a sales rep from his/her daily toil is not an easy task, but we insisted their presence is crucial in a product development effort.

As expected, this extremely energetic, intelligent and experienced Sales Manager, who we shall call Dale, was the soul of the innovation facilitation session. He readily shared his understanding of the company’s clients, their needs, wants, fears and motivations. He also possessed – pardon the stereotype – the classic sales-champion talent for engaging his colleagues in entertaining conversation, and generally spreading around an excellent vibe, telling jokes and recounting sales-battle stories where relevant.

So, it isn’t surprising that we started a bit of back-and-forth good spirited banter. At some point, Dale came up with an idea. And when another colleague pointed out an obvious flaw, Dale immediately pivoted, without losing a second, and came up with an improved version. “That reminds me of a joke,” I said to Dale and the team, and proceeded to tell it:

watermelon - innovation facilitation session

One guy, call him Dale, in my home town of Tel Aviv, applies for a job in a supermarket. After a short conversation, the manager says to Dale: “There’s a customer, let’s see how you assist him.”  Dale walks over and the customer hands him a watermelon that he had just picked up from the shelf, and asks to buy only half of it. Dale takes the watermelon, walks over to the manager, and says: “Some idiot asked for half of this watermelon.” The manager, in distress, tries to signal to Dale that the customer had walked behind him and heard Dale’s words. Dale immediately understands, and completes the sentence: “…and this gentleman here, would like the other half.”

Laughter, laughter, but the joke doesn’t end here…

The manager is really impressed with Dale’s agility and ability and says: “Listen Dale, that was impressive. How would you like the job of manager of our store in Jaffa?” “Jaffa?” Dale says. “They say everyone there is either a prostitute or a soccer player.” The manager is a bit taken aback and says “Actually, my sister is from Jaffa.” “Which team does she play on?” answers Dale without a second’s hesitation.

Big laughter in the room, but I detect some ambivalence and unease. Was it my mention of the word “prostitutes” (not sure I would dare repeat it nowadays in a corporate setting)? No. Something else, which I discover only at the end of the day, when the two project owners invite me to dinner. One detail I failed to mention: Dale (the real one, not the joke character) was African-American. And to my utter surprise, that evening I learned that “watermelon” has a special connotation in this context. From Wikipedia: “Watermelons have been viewed as a major symbol in the iconography of racism in the United States since as early as the nineteenth century.”

First thing I did next morning was, of course, to have a conversation with Dale. He had noticed obviously in the innovation facilitation session, but he assured me he had no doubt whatsoever that I had been ignorant of the context and connotations, so he was not offended in any way. He did feel uncomfortable though with his colleagues’ looks and concern. He knew it was nonsense. They knew it was nonsense.

So why the unease? A hard loop to get out of, but, as often happens in the corporate context, we had a task to accomplish which didn’t leave time for brooding. We went back to the room, and I shared with the group that my blunder had been pointed out to me.  I was using my privilege as an ignorant outsider to point out the absurdity of it all. The ice was then broken, and we jumped back into the work.

Now that you’ve read about some of the pitfalls that can happen in an innovation facilitation session, check out how you can overcome your innovation challenges.

Innovative Concepts: Managing “Air-Time to Contribution”

Published on: October 16, 2017 в 11:59 am

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Categories: innovation

My mother liked to strike up conversations with strangers of all stripes, and it was one of my favorite childhood pastimes to listen in. But sometimes, when they babbled away uncontrollably, she would turn to my sister and me and mumble: “mental constipation, verbal diarrhea”.

Innovative Concepts in dealing with Air-time

My professional life provides, alas, many occasions in which I am reminded of this indelicate quip.  With a softer approach in mind, I developed a practical tool for managing the contributions of participants in a workshop that I would like to share with you.

Mentally visualize the participants, each placed in one of four quadrants, defined by two axes:

  • Quantity – the amount of air-time they tend to occupy (how often and how much they speak)
  • Quality – your assessment of their potential contribution to achieving the goals of the session.

innovative concepts

Innovative Concepts to keep in mind

A’s – Balance OK, no harm to the dynamics, unless there are too many A’s in the room, which means that something is terribly wrong. But even if there are relatively few A’s, it is worth exploring: Maybe an A shouldn’t have been there in the first place? If so, is it too late to release them from this unnecessary commitment? Maybe they can be highly valuable elsewhere? But maybe all they need is to better understand their role in your workshop and what they could potentially contribute. I remember a Plant Manager in Mexico who was sure that the Marketing Manager and her team should be allowed to lead an enthusiastic discussion about new products without any spoil-sport manufacturing comments from him, until I explained that his professional considerations (provided that they were phrased constructively) were crucial guidelines within which the marketing team, and others, could let their imagination fly. Participants in each quadrant require different treatments.

B’s – Need controlling, because they are misusing the team’s most valuable asset – time. There are many ways, some more subtle than others, to control a rampant B, and your task is as delicate as it is crucial to the success of the engagement. First, there is high potential for hurt feelings, and second, the possibility always exists that there is, in fact, more value in B’s contribution than initially meets the “ear”.

C’s – Can be easily mistaken for A’s and left alone. Thus, their potential contribution is lost, with unfortunate consequences both for them and the team. An important task for you as facilitator is to find a moment – probably during a break – to conduct your differential diagnosis: is the introverted engineer from R&D an A who shouldn’t have been invited in the first place, or is he an invaluable trove of coaxable, priceless information?

D’s  Are a facilitator’s best friends. They contribute. They sustain the energy. They give you the (positive) feedback you need. They will extract you from those uneasy moments of general silence. They are truly your allies. But beware of the trap of allowing them to lead the discussion uni-directionally, squelching other voices that may open the more innovative avenues you would like to explore.

In summary, all participants are your friends and allies, but a balanced management of “air-time to contribution” requires differential treatment for each and every one of them.

Found these innovative concepts useful? Now its time to learn how to break your fixedness and become a green innovator!

3 Useful Lessons from Innovation Facilitation Sessions that Went Wrong

Published on: September 27, 2017 в 10:38 am

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Categories: innovation,innovation facilitation

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We’ve all been at meetings, or in an innovation facilitation, in which we couldn’t wait for someone to stop talking. Some may say that in an innovation facilitation session any contribution to the discussion is helpful. But what happens if you are the one facilitating the meeting?

 

3 lessons I learned the hard way, during an innovation facilitation

As an innovation facilitator for more than 20 years, I put forth considerable effort to give each participant the chance to express herself/himself throughout the discussion. Sometimes, though, there is a pressing need to achieve quick results, and hearing out the ramblings of someone who is thinking out loud or the lengthy suggestion of a participant whose opinion doesn’t really count much in the organization, doesn’t seem to be the best use of the team’s time.

Still, from an ethical point of view, each voice is valuable, and practically speaking, it is often the reticent engineer from R&D or the shy lawyer from Legal who throw in the comment that swings the entire discussion towards a new and fruitful direction.

Given the compelling arguments – both moral and practical – I tend to monitor discussions attentively to ensure everybody gets a fair chance to contribute, regardless of their ability to wrestle for air time. Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that within a single month, I managed to offend two participants, in two separate workshops, who both felt I had deliberately avoided allowing them the opportunity to contribute to the innovation facilitation discussion.

In the first case, the participant actually got up and left the room. Although a somewhat dramatic and unpleasant moment ensued, it thankfully indicated that I had a serious problem, which I was able to deal with in the next break.

In the other case, I only learned about my mistake in the evening, from the process owners to whom my victim had complained. Luckily, we had an additional workshop session the next day, which allowed me to have a clearing-the-air conversation the next morning, before the workshop started. This, however, raised a nagging thought: I wondered how many other offended participants I had left behind throughout my 22 years of facilitation, without even noticing or discovering it, even after the fact.

 

My immediate learnings from these two traumatic experiences:

 

As an innovation facilitator, you have a commitment to the process owners: achieve results! But you also have a contract with the participants: honoring the time and brain power they have put in your hands. They must all be given a chance to express themselves.

  1. Don’t assume that verbose participants  in an innovation facilitation are necessarily content with their allotted time. They might not understand your “global” fair-time-allocation considerations. He may have talked more than his share already, but he has a great idea now that he wants to communicate, and therefore no patience to hear what lesser minds wish to offer.

2. Use break times and facilitation cues to manage both reticent and vocal participants.

Read about the innovation facilitation session in which I offended my best participant on racist grounds (or not?), and some tips on how to manage the balance between participants’ motivation to speak and their potential contribution to the discussion.

5 Surprising Reasons Why Innovation Experts Don’t Always Rely Solely on Their Innate Creativity

Published on: August 21, 2017 в 10:59 am

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Categories: innovation

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Why would a world-renowned serial inventor fall in love with a method for inventing?

Recently, we had the pleasure of awarding, for the seventh consecutive year, a scholarship in memory of our client, mentor, and good friend, Dr. Micha Shemer, who passed away in May 2007. Micha was a brilliant inventor, innovation expert, globally renowned with numerous patents to his name. Based on his PhD, he invented an entire industry of soy-based meat substitutes, resulting in a company – Tivall, and quite a few imitators and followers.

The company went on to be acquired by Israel’s Osem, and later became part of Nestlé, where Micha’s innovation skills were put to much use. Our friendship and long-term relationship was important for us on many levels, but it also begs a fascinating professional question: who benefits more from learning a method for innovation, a novice or an expert? This question has been discussed in SIT for many years, with strong arguments on both sides, and is relevant, of course, to any method or technique that purports to assist people in becoming more innovative.

The case for teaching novices is quite obvious. Lack of skills and experience in innovation is no different than their absence in any other endeavor. The more interesting question is: why would someone who is inventing like crazy anyway, such as Micha, spend time and effort in studying and practicing – as Micha fanatically did – a method designed to teach him the very skill in which he so excelled?

I want to propose five possible reasons:

  1. Re-inventing your own wheel

The Tiger Woods syndrome, or more recently Roger Federer syndrome, is the phenomenon of a master in his or her field practically dominating it, and yet taking the decision to completely change their style, re-invent the way they go about playing. At the risk of simplification and generalization, we can say that this step can be motivated either by a sense of imminent decline (as in the latter case) or by what we can just assume to be an unstoppable urge to excel without limits (the former). The mark of true innovation experts is the constant search for more and better.

  1. Tools for Others- Innovation Experts

Even masters of their craft tend to prefer certain tools to others. Years ago, we analyzed the award-winning work of a leading ad agency in a European country and discovered that – in SIT terms – they tended to repeatedly use three “Thinking Tools”. It wasn’t easy to convince them that they could benefit from innovation training, but once trained, they greatly expanded their toolbox, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of awards, including a Cannes Golden Lion.

  1. Spreading the Word

It is not uncommon for inventors or innovation experts to find it hard to communicate their ideas, harness others to collaborate with them, and convince stakeholders to lend their support. As their thought processes are often different, and sometimes much quicker, from others’, they can be difficult to follow and understand. Organizing their thinking methodically can be very effective in overcoming the communication challenge, provided, of course, that this regimentation does not stifle their inventiveness.

  1. Teaching Curve

Micha loved to teach. He was a great teacher, but the method allowed him to take his teaching a step further. It gave him the tools to explain his own inventions and ideas in a structured format, allowing his students to readily translate their learning into immediate, practical results.

  1. Innovate In What You Eat

The fact that you are an inventor and innovator, does not mean that you haven’t been eating the same steak and potatoes for the past 30 years. Learning an innovation method allows you to expand your innovative capabilities to areas that were previously out of your innovation bounds. Micha, for example, did not limit his use of the tools to his regular work as a food technologist and inventor.

He also radically applied the Subtraction technique, by banishing PowerPoint presentations from his courses and lectures. The effect on audiences was impressive, but no less moving was Micha’s recurring enthusiasm at the opportunity to replace, time and again, the missing presentation with yet another new exercise, video or additional inventive idea.

 

 

 

Cracking Innovator’s Innovation

The argument has been practically settled years ago, and you can probably guess how. Time and again, we see that newcomers to the world of innovation gain huge value from learning a method. However, the most impressive leaps are achieved, contrary to what many would think, by seasoned innovation experts who are still open to refresh their thinking and enrich their toolbox by learning and adopting an innovation methodology.

Now that you understand the importance of innovation methods, check out how to break your mental fixedness and become a green innovation expert.

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