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An Observation on Innovation

It is true that innovation is a means to an end – not an end in itself. It is also true, however, that innovative ideas inspire us well beyond their functional benefit. In that respect, innovation-ness is like having beautiful writing style – it cannot replace content or meaning, but coupled with them will make the outcome not only more pleasing, but also more impactful.

It is often hard to put our fingers on what makes an idea innovative – but when faced with such an idea we can usually recognize it immediately. To most of us a car that produces electric energy every time you brake (e.g. Toyota hybrid cars) would seem ‘sexier’ and more compelling than a car that is simply 5% more efficient in energy consumption; although from an environmental perspective the latter may be more significant. Similarly, a double wall glass (e.g. Bodum glasses) would strike us as cooler (no pun intended) and as more effective than a single-layer product made of a better insulating glass, even if the latter may keep the liquid colder or warmer for a longer time.

In both examples, the more innovative version is not a gimmick or a trend that may disappear as fast as it appeared. These examples represent real innovations because they combine two fundamental characteristics: they are new, and their newness is beneficial.  Arguably, the seemingly less innovative versions in both cases also share these characteristics. The only difference is their perceived novelty versus the original product. To the ‘naked eye’, a 5% more efficient car is very similar to the less efficient version, much as a glass made of a more insulating material is very similar to a glass made of an inferior one. That is not the case with the conspicuously innovative versions. The fact that braking the car creates energy is surprisingly different from what you may find in a “regular” car, much like a double wall glass is clearly different from a single wall glass.

If we follow this line of thought to its natural end, we might conclude that when it comes to innovation, it’s as important to get the job done as it is to do so in a way that is different or surprising. The thing is, however, that in most cases getting the job done is hard enough, even without any additional demands. So how can we expect our search for innovation to take into account the aesthetics of the outcome, on top of its functional merit???

In some cases, and for some companies, this is a non-issue. A company seeking to produce a certain commodity at a lower cost couldn’t care less about the sexiness of their ideas. The functionality of the solution is all that matters and the esthetic aspects of it are of little or no concern. On the other hand, if another company is looking for a new design for a high-end roll-on deodorant, the functional aspects are a necessary condition, but may not be sufficient. Clearly the brand in question would gain a lot if these functional benefits are achieved in a unique, surprising and sexy way.

While this may sound ominous to many products, brands and companies, the truth of the matter is not that grim. The innovative solutions we mentioned are compelling and surprising because they do something counterintuitive – they break some of the fixednesses regarding the product or the category. In Toyota’s hybrid cars the brakes were designed to do something most other brakes do not – produce energy. They do so by breaking a cognitive bias called “Functional Fixedness”. That fixedness is broken by assigning a new function (creating energy) to an element that already exists in the system to carry a different function (the braking system). Bodum glasses look different from other glasses because they break another cognitive bias called “Structural Fixedness”. That fixedness is broken by changing a fundamental design feature of the whole category – the use of a single wall.

Breaking cognitive fixedness can lead to the development of effective solutions – ones that meet the demands of the engineers and R&D folks. When we manage to break our fixedness we are able to explore options that were previously overlooked, and open up to new alternatives that can be extremely powerful. The fact that such solutions may also end up being attractive from a marketing perspective is simply a side effect of this approach, although it would doubtfully be regarded as a negative one.

So it boils down to this:
You can scan the realm of possibilities looking for truly innovative ideas, or simply looking for ideas. If you do the former, there’s a good chance you’ll find the latter, but if you do the latter, you will rarely stumble upon the former.

This should, in no way, dismiss our efforts to develop and implement ideas that are less conspicuously innovative. It only means that by looking for ideas that break our cognitive fixedness we increase our chances of coming up with ideas that are not only innovative, but also perceived as such.

Cannes Lions 2012 – Beyond Cocktails and Caviar

It’s my third time in the French Rivera’s glamorous Cannes Lions festival and I’m still dazzled by the scene. Everyone seems so cool and upbeat. There’s so much to make my heart beat faster – walking down the red carpet, dancing in the galas, going to Facebook, Contagious and Bill Clinton’s talks and watching the new media hocus-pocus in the corridors.
Yet, it’s taken me three visits to be able to look beyond the cocktails and caviar to see the amazing hard work that talents from all around the world are putting into this competition. I’m proud to say that this year’s winners, who actually held the Lions and Grand Prix, are the ones who truly paid attention to the little details of the ads, just like craftsmen.
If there’s only one thing I will surely remember from all the entries I’ve seen in Cannes, this Grand Prix will be it.

It’s a truly delicate, sensitive animation campaign full of wisdom by the Creative Artists Agency Los Angeles for a Mexican fast food chain called Chipotle. I like the way it puts an emphasis on finding sustainable solutions in whatever they do – showing that social and environmental responsibility are no longer just “nice to haves” in the advertising world, but are becoming essential. For those who look out for SIT patterns – this is also an interesting use of the SIT Inversion logic by dramatizing the consequences of not using the product. Following this logic, the negative consequence of not being sustainable is practically ruining the planet and mistreating animals.

Another work of art by JWT Shanghai for Maxam Toiletries (and a Gold Lion winner) shows again, the in-details-emphasis of the juries in the festival this year. A classic SIT metaphor with a strong message fusion, where cavity takes over ‘ruining’ historical heritage.


Last but by no means least, is the very craftsmen-like work for BAJAJ done by our veteran client Leo Burnett India (all done by hand) who took a silver lion – again another beautiful use of the Inversion logic:


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In order to maintain a competitive edge in today’s market, companies have a dual challenge of constantly creating more value for their customers whilst thriving to cut costs and improve their productivity.

Due to this reality, we have lately witnessed a surge of requests from clients who wished to examine the relevance of SIT’s methodology for breaking fixedness, challenging assumptions and utilizing existing resources to create new value (“Closed World”) as a means of achieving impact in the field of productivity.

Many of these clients had already adopted methods such at LEAN, Kaizen, and Six Sigma and wished to expand their “productivity tool kit” and complement their existing productivity initiatives. In fact, many of these processes’ black belts have become SIT’s strongest proponents in their organizations and now lead innovation sessions of their own to supplement their more classic productivity method work.

After many high impact productivity projects conducted in recent years, SIT has been acknowledged as a powerful tool for enhancing companies’ ability to reach robust results end-to-end in the supply chain including procurement, operations, raw & pack, and logistics. Our clients’ feedback clearly shows that our method has enabled them to cut an additional approx 5% off costs in the near term and an estimated 10-15% in the long term.

Therefore, on July 11th we will be conducting a webinar regarding the way SIT can assist you to cut costs and increase productivity. In our 45 min webinar you will:

  • – Learn how SIT can be successfully applied to increase productivity.
  • – Understand how SIT complements existing methodologies used in your organization such as LEAN, Kaizen, and Six Sigma.
  • – Get introduced to some of the SIT thinking tools and principles.

You can get more information about the webinars here, and register to one of the two in the links below

Option #1 – 04:00 pm CEST / 10:00 am EDT / 7:00 am PDT

Option #2 – 05:30 pm CEST / 11:30 am EDT / 8:30 am PDT

Looking forward to seeing you!

Green Eggs, Viagra, Constraints and Creativity

There is little argument that Dr. Seuss is one of the world’s most popular and loved writers. His name is associated with imagination, creativity, talent and originality – and on a personal note – he is one of my favorite writers as well.

In 1954, after reading an article about the shortcomings of books used to teach reading to first-graders, Dr. Seuss was challenged by his friend, William Ellsworth Spaulding, to write a book that first graders “can’t put down”. But there was one additional constraint – he was to write that book using no more than 225 words out of a designated list of 348 words that every first grader should know. Dr. Seuss ended up using 236 words, of which 221 are monosyllabic (!!), to write The Cat in The Hat – a book that has been one of the most successful children’s book ever since.

As if that was not enough, Dr. Seuss’s publisher bet him that he would not be able to write another book using as little as 50 different words. As impossible as that may sound, Dr. Seuss not only won the bet – he did so with a bang. In August 1960 he published Green Eggs and Ham – the book that would become his most successful, and the 4th best-selling English-language children’s hardcover book of all time!

So what’s going on here? How did the unreasonable constraint of writing a book using only 50 different words become the catalyst for one of the world’s most successful and admired books? After all, when we try to be creative we usually go through considerable trouble to break the constraints that limit us, and certainly do not choose to embrace new constraints. Can the explanation simply be the extraordinary talent of Dr. Seuss, or is there something else at play that could be relevant to mere mortals like you and me?

Before we try to answer this question, please take a look at these Viagra TV commercials:




In both these commercials, and for fairly obvious reasons, the advertisers had to avoid describing in detail what their product does, or enables… This constraint is not unique to these specific commercials. What makes them unique, though, is the way the advertisers chose to deal with that constraint.

In many similar cases advertisers have tried to bypass this constraint in various ways, such as portraying men in “the morning after”, filled with energy and joy. But in the examples we just saw there was something very different. They do not contain an attempt to avoid the constraint – quite the contrary. If you think about it, what the advertisers did in both cases is to use the constraint – and in a central and conspicuous manner!

And look at the results: two commercials that are based on a unique element, and are therefore interesting, distinct and memorable; dialogues in which the use of “censorship” leads us to imagine the exact same things you just cannot show on primetime television; a central role for the product itself, as an integral part of the commercial; and last, but not least, a Cannes award for the campaign. All in all not too bad for an idea that was paradoxically inspired by the inability to do what initially seems to be so essential (yes, you can read this sentence again…)

It is interesting to compare this campaign with another Viagra campaign that also uses the same constraint in an unusual manner. Take a look:

In this amusing commercial (that is even funnier the second time you see it) we witness a different way to address the constraint. Here, too, the advertisers are not running away from the campaign using something like “the morning after” approach. Rather, they are facing it head on by replacing the medium which is the object of the constraint – the language itself. The advertisers decided to go ahead and do exactly what they intended to do originally – constraint or no constraint. This “stubbornness” forced them to explore options and alternatives that would never come up were it not for the constraint.

Let’s summarize what we had so far. We saw a few examples in which we recognize a surprising connection between the presences of significant constraints and the ability to develop original and creative ideas. We can even go further to say that in these examples the creative ideas were not developed despite the relevant constraint, but rather because of it.

Yet with all due respect, the constraints did not do the creative work. That has been done by the individuals that chose to address them not as a force majeure that must be submissively accepted, but rather as raw material for a creative exploration. Not as an “end of story”, but as a starting point for a creative negotiation. And that, my friends, is exactly the insight we can take with us, and the state of mind we can learn to adopt.

Not every constraint, in any situation or creative process, can lead us to the development of an award winning campaign or a successful literary masterpiece; but some might, if we just give them (and ourselves) a chance. The widely accepted notion that constraints harm creativity, in not unreasonable; after all, constraints – by their very nature – limit the options available to us.  But if we manage to change the way we view them, we may discover that in many cases they simply stop us from settling for the simple, immediate or generic solutions. And thus, by preventing us from taking the path of least resistance, they force us to explore and consider options we would never reach otherwise.

At any rate, in the complex reality we live in, the submissive approach to constraints is an omnipresent problem. When have you last faced a creative challenge, or a problem that needed a solution, in a constraint-free environment??? Constraints surround us in any task and every challenge, so that the ability to use them as a creative opportunity can come pretty handy in our professional lives (and our private ones, by the way). It does not take a lot of resources or complicated preparations – just a shift in our perspective.

So take a few moments to consider the challenges you are facing today, and ask yourselves what constraints make it difficult for you to face these challenges. Maybe these constraints can serve you in the same way the list of words did Dr. Seuss or the censorship the advertisers of Viagra. In what creative ways can you utilize these constraints? Which ideas can they help you come up with, and why are these better than the ones you came up with so far? It may take more than 20 seconds to find meaningful answers for these questions, but if you give it 20 minutes you might be pretty amazed at what you can come up with…



The original version of this article has been published, in Hebrew, on
http://shivuk.themarker.com

My life’s a mess, what’s the problem?

Lately, I find myself bringing the SIT methodology or should I say philosophy, more and more into my everyday life. Whether I am talking to my son, who hasn’t lost his creativity (yet); trying to solve a problem or drinking coffee with my husband while explaining to him what relationships and innovation processes have in common.

But today, I want to focus my post on how I have applied the SIT problem-solving technique to solve our housing problem. About a year ago, a little after my younger son, Itamar, was born, my husband Tal and I started looking for a larger apartment. We felt that we needed a bigger space, not so much for ourselves or the kids, but more for our personal belongings: the house was always a mess and I guess it’s part of being a young mom for two boys. But that is for a different post. After a few months of househunting, we came to the realization that rent in Tel Aviv is ridiculously expensive so moving to a new apartment, if we insisted on staying in town, was not really an option.

In order to tackle this issue wisely, I realized that I had to look into the root of the problem and understand what the real challenge was for us . So I started asking myself: Is our flat too small? Or is it the fact that Tal has an office in the apartment? Is the mess bothering me? Or is it about something else that I wasn’t aware of?

I used my time, whilst stuck in a really annoying traffic jam, to analyze the problem. At first, I wasn’t even aware that I was building, in my mind -and later on a piece of paper – what we refer to in SIT as a UDP chain – a chain of undesired phenomena.

I started by looking at the problem “the fact that our flat is too small” – which I thought at the beginning was the issue. Digging deeper, I understood that what actually bothered me was that “my apartment is always a mess”.

From here it became easier, and I created the UDP chain with only a few phenomena. It looked something like this:

I get more frustrated

My place became messier

I gave up trying to organize it

My apartment is always a mess

I don’t have enough storage places

The apartment is not built right

The apartment is rented and not ours

To start looking for a solution, I decided to use what we call at SIT “qualitative change” (QC), which basically means changing the correlation between the harmful element and the phenomenon we would like to eliminate. Here’s a snapshot of my thinking process:

I took different pairs of UDP’s from the chain I created and tried to break the relationships between them. It looked something like this:

• “Although I don’t have enough storage places my apartment is not a mess”

• “Although the apartment is rented it is built right”

By flipping the situation 180 degrees, I was able to very quickly find some creative solutions: such as getting my cleaner to come more than once a week for a shorter ‘maintenance clean’, building a special space for the enormous amount of laundry that is piled up on an everyday basis, renovating our rented place, assigning specific times and duties for organizing the place, etc.

So much for the ideation phase – I guess you’re wondering about what we implemented? Well, we ended up renovating the apartment, adding a significant space to one of our bedrooms by making the living-room a little bit smaller. And the mess? I’d be lying if I say it’s disappeared but it has improved for sure.

MacGyver and Creative Problem Solving

About 27 years ago, millions of children worldwide were subliminally introduced to a creative problem solving technique. It was so clearly and repeatedly illustrated to them, that most of them could identify a conceptual solution to a given problem right away.

Who were these children, you wonder? Well, if you were a child in the mid-80′s and early-90′s, then there’s a good chance it was you. And how were they taught basic creative problem solving, you may wonder? Simply by watching a popular American TV show called MacGyver.

The show followed the secret agent Angus MacGyver – a resourceful agent with comprehensive science knowledge, hired by a government agency to fight the “bad guys”. In every episode, MacGyver found himself in what seemed to be an absurd and unsolvable situation, which he brilliantly overcame using everyday materials he finds at hand, together with his duct tape and Swiss Army knife. His surprising and highly inventive solutions gave the show its unique appeal and audience admiration, which resulted in dozens of tributes in American popular culture, including its primetime icons such as SNL, SuperBowl Commercial and “The Simpsons”. Interestingly, the show coined the term “MacGyverism”, which refers to solving a problem in a creative and resourceful way…

Now let us cut to the chase. This MacGyverism is no other than a core thinking principle in the SIT innovation methodology, called “Closed World”. According to this principle, one must utilize only types of elements already existing in the problem, or in its immediate environment, rather than introducing new and external resources for the solution. Closed world is a classic example of what we at SIT call “thinking inside the box” (finding a creative solution by limiting the space of possibilities). This makes us pay much more attention to the elements within the problem and their potential functions. Thus, the “Closed World” principle sets us on a collision course with our own cognitive fixedness, allowing us to arrive at solutions which are both innovative  and implementable.

Care for a real-life case study? A leading nation-wide HMO was confronted with the issue of over-prescribing antibiotics by general practitioners. This is a well-known problem which is responsible for increasing antibiotic resistance and raising healthcare costs, and serves as a poor health behavior model for patients. The innovation process lead by SIT resulted in different and vast solutions to the problem, addressing it from different angles. One innovative Closed-World solution was the “Delayed Antibiotics Prescription”. Using only the existing components for the solution (i.e. doctor, pharmacy, patient, written prescription) and SIT’s thinking tools, the team came up with the idea of giving a prescription which can be redeemed only after 24 hours of its issue by the doctor. As most influenza patients feel better 24 hours after visiting their doctor, they end up not using the anti-biotic prescription, thus reducing its consumption dramatically. Same components, slightly rearranged in time and you’ve got yourself a simple, elegant and highly effective solution to a complex problem.

So back to our creative problem solving hero; whether the problem you face requires building a trap using only plywood, rope, water jugs and a smoke detector or you are tackling a business issue, you can get value from MacGyvering and applying the SIT methodology.

Making far seem a lot closer with the Closed World*

 

A long time ago, in my very first SIT blog, I wrote about my nephew, Rani. Don’t worry though, it is not like I expect you to rememberJ. Anyway, a lot has changed since then but I’ll mention here just two relevant points: my nephew is now five years old and for the last 37.5 days he has been living in China with his parents and baby sister but unfortunately, without moi.

His move to China was accompanied by many concerns on my part, one of them being how do we manage to maintain our close relationship despite the formidable distance. I was reassured by friends saying that in today’s world, keeping in touch is much easier due to technology such as skype, but I kept wondering nevertheless how that would work when it comes to a 5-year old kid with the attention span of a… 5-year old kid.

37.5 days later, I can tell you: it works! I have between two to four weekly video calls with my nephew, each lasting something like 45 to 90 minutes.

The first time we had a skype video call, it was more of a Q&A type of thing but then I looked around and realized we are surrounded by a lot of elements that can be used to make our chat more interactive, more fun, more captivating and eventually last longer.

Let me give you a few examples of those elements identified and which activities we did using them:

Books: When I was home I noticed some of Rani’s favorite books left behind so I read to him. I just put the book itself close to the camera so he could see the pictures while he heard me reading it to him.

CDs: What I also had at home were his CDs so I put one of his favorite CDs on and we started dancing or actually more like going wild together (not recommended when you have an audience..)

Video camera: Moved the camera around and asked Rani to identify what he sees. He did the same thing and it became kind of a game with points gained for each item identified correctly.

Covered the camera with my hand, made a noise and asked Rani to identify the noise he heard.

Messages:

As Rani is just now learning his ABCs, I sent him one or two-word messages and asked him to read what I sent.

I asked him what he wanted me to write and sent him a message with this text.

Timer: for a kid as fascinated with numbers as this one, simply asking for a reading of the numbers, watching how they advance is considered an interesting activity with Aunt Iris.

Group video: add the grandparents to the chat and to the games. The more the merrier!

Our own faces: a staring competition to see who laughs first at the funny faces the other does. Again, not sure you’d want witnesses for that one…

The movements we do: triggered in me a childhood memory of the game “Simon says”. We added the grandparents to the game, by the way, using the group video which made it even more fun!

I hope that I have made the point about how easy it has been to come up with these practical ideas above simply by using what we have around us or as we call it at SIT our “Closed World”*.

By the way, our chats have become so successful that my sister- in-law actually found a substantial benefit for her. She sets up some of our chats herself to keep little Rani busy only so that she can take a much needed nap herself…

 

*Note: The SIT Closed World principle dictates that, when solving a problem or developing new products (or services or processes), one should strive to use only those resources that exist in the product (or system) itself, or in its immediate vicinity.

 

 

 

It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread


Over the last century or so, innovation has gradually become a more and more dominant factor in our world. However, despite the increasing presence and influence innovations have on our everyday lives, none of them has made it into our language – save one: sliced bread. We often hear statements like “it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!”, but have you ever stopped to ask yourselves how this seemingly simple innovation has managed to become the benchmark for future inventions? A closer look at the history of sliced bread may shed some light on this question.

In the early years of the 20th century, Otto Frederick Rohwedder had a revolutionary idea: why not sell bread that is already sliced?! A Jeweller by profession, Rohwedder had little to do with the baking industry, but living in a small town in Iowa, right in the middle of the bread basket of America, he was no stranger to it as well. In 1912 he decided to implement his vision, and started to develop a machine that would automatically slice bread. As his project advanced he soon realized that slicing the bread created a new problem – the multiple surfaces of the sliced bread made it hard to keep it from going stale. It was 16 years later that he completed developing a bread slicer that not only sliced the bread, but also wrapped it in a wax paper to keep it fresh.

 

Although many bakers had their doubts about this strange machine, the first Rohwedder Bread Slicer was sold after 16 years in 1928, and by July that same year the first loaf of pre-sliced bread went on shelves in Chillicothe, Missouri. Soon after, in 1930, a company called Wonder Bread started marketing sliced bread nationwide

Sliced bread saved time and effort for consumers, and made it easier to reach for a second and third slice, increasing comfort and consumption. It also gave a boost to pop-up toasters, which had been languishing on the shelves since 1926, as well as to spreads such as peanut butter and jam.

So what is it about this invention that earned it its unique place? Was it the unveiling of such a dominant need that was latent for so many years? Was it the fact that even one of the oldest, most basic products in the world can be reinvented? Was it the immense success of an idea that is so simple it seems almost obvious in hindsight? Or was it the fact that even such an iconic invention still took almost two decades to develop and implement?

Whatever the historic answer may be, there is much to learn from the story of sliced bread. It is a story of a man and an idea – a story that turns out to be far more complicated than you might expect. It involved insight, challenge, creativity and perseverance – much like the story of any successful innovation.

So whatever you spread on your bread – peanut butter & jelly, cream cheese or humus – tell us what you think made this innovation resonate so loudly in our collective minds. We would love to hear what you think.