Achieving perfect innovation

In my mind, perfect solutions or product/service improvements are ones that deliver additional benefits over and above those that can currently be realised from an existing solution or product/service. As I’ve previously explored, the greater the additional benefits, the greater the innovation. But is this enough and does it suggest great design?

In this day and age there is strong support for the notion that great design should not only deliver the greatest benefits possible but also do this whilst minimising any associated costs and eliminating any undesirable consequences (harms). In TRIZ terms, this equates to moving towards what is termed ‘ideality’. Something that is truly ideal delivers all the benefits without any costs or harms and whilst achieving ‘ideality’ might be unrealistic, it could easily be argued that great designs move towards it.

Often, how to reduce/eliminate costs or harms may be obvious and the solutions may immediately spring to mind but there are likely to be times when this task is somewhat more challenging.

Amongst many systematic approaches to reducing or eliminating costs and harms, there are a couple which stand out as being particular favourites with many of my clients, the first of which is trimming.

Trimming is all about eliminating parts of a system (a system being anything where two or more components interact with one another, this could be a physical system or a process) whilst retaining all the useful functions of that component. A recent example of trimming was the elimination of car tax discs where the function of the tax disc was transferred to another part of the system, in this case the license plate. By doing so, the function of the tax disc was no longer required, therefore it could be trimmed and in turn the car has become incrementally more ideal. This used the third of three basic rules for trimming: ‘a component can be trimmed if the useful function is transferred to another component in the system’.

The second favoured systematic approach is to make the best possible use of available resources (ideally those that are readily available at no or low cost).

A good illustration of this is that of the changes made to corrosion testing, when traditionally a sample (typically a cube) of the subject to be tested would be weighed and then placed in acid in a platinum lined vessel. After a given period of time the sampled would be removed and weighed again to determine the weight loss and therefore the rate of corrosion. The problem with this is that:

  • Platinum is very expensive, resulting in most laboratories only having one testing vessel
  • Testing has to be carried out sequentially
  • Therefore, it is time consuming and costly

By identifying all available resources, the list (simplified for illustrative purposes) might look like this:

  • Subject
  • Acid
  • Vessel
  • Platinum

Assuming that we have identified that to make an improvement to this system an alternative to the existing platinum lined vessel is required we could evaluate each of the available resources for their usefulness in providing a solution. This may enable us to conclude that the subject itself could become the vessel. Bore a hole in the subject, weigh it, fill it with acid for a pre-determined period of time, remove the acid and re-weigh the subject and make the necessary calculations.

This solution is not only considerably more cost effective but also means that testing can now take place simultaneously, radically speeding up the process.

In hindsight, you might say that the above two examples are blindingly obvious but then aren’t all good innovations?

What this does illustrate though, is that by applying systematic approaches to design and problem solving it is possible to develop great solutions that not only deliver additional benefits but also reduce costs and harms thus making incremental steps towards the ideal.

For more information on how we support our clients in all aspects of innovation, visit http://www.problem-engineering.com.

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Systematic Innovation – The Book

Book Cover

Systematic Innovation, my new book, is now published and will be available from next week.

The purpose of the book is to bring together in one step-by-step guide a powerful suite of systematic tools and processes that make innovation happen.

Based upon years of development and refinement, the systematic approaches have been successfully applied and have helped clients develop new products and services, solve tough and complex problems (often those of a highly technical nature) and innovate.

Innovation is a process.  It can be learnt and easily applied and this book will show you how.

The chapters include:

Behavioural Science – an exploration of the suppressants that restrict our ability to generate ideas and concepts, solve problems and innovate. These include individual and group thinking issues.

Leadership and management of innovation – explores the significance that effective leadership and management has on innovation. It will either encourage innovation and allow it to flourish or create an environment where it will wither on the vine.

Systematic innovation (the process) – a look at the innovation process from start to finish that if followed, guarantees success.

The innovation pipeline – this is a great framework for helping to manage your innovation flow. It is comprised of seven segments from IP-1 to IP-7, each representing a different set of core activities and can be populated by products and services at various stages of their development and lifecycle.

Problem or design definition – defining problems correctly is essential if we are to develop truly effective solutions. Similarly, if we are designing something, we need to be clear about what that something is before we make a start. In both scenarios it is also important to understand peripheral information such as context, constraints, barriers etc. The book explores all the above and more.

Systematic thinking tools and processes – this provides a wide and varied collection of systematic thinking tools and processes that when applied enable the generation of high volumes of ideas, concepts and solutions.

Selection and prioritisation – this includes my favoured and most commonly applied approaches to selection and prioritisation of ideas and solutions.

Implementation – approaches to ensure that we successfully implement our chosen ideas and solutions.

Measure, monitor, review and feedback – it is essential that we know how we are doing and this chapter is all about what and how to effectively measure, monitor, review and feedback (MMRF).

Systematic approaches (quick guides) – these are a handy reference to remind you of the key steps to the systematic approaches.

Innovation is not just about developing new products and technologies, we can benefit from innovation in just about everything we do and the systematic approaches described in the book have been applied to many different focusses.

These powerful approaches will enable you to:

  • Generate high volumes of ideas and concepts on demand
  • Solve the toughest of problems
  • Innovate
  • Manage individual and group thinking
  • Make meetings more productive
  • Lead and manage ‘innovation’
  • Develop new products and services
  • Improve processes
  • Engineer value
  • Select and prioritise your best ideas and concepts

Systematic Innovation will soon be available through Amazon but if you are interested in receiving a copy straight away, please do contact me and I’ll make the necessary arrangements.

Low cost, efficient and environmentally friendly solutions

When looking to solve problems (whatever their nature) it clearly makes sense to develop low cost, efficient and environmentally friendly solutions. The identification of readily available resources can greatly assist with this.

When we make a conscious effort to identify locally available resources surrounding a problem it is often surprising to discover the number and variety of resources that exist.

For example, if we were to identify locally available resources surrounding a standard piece of single core wire, beyond the obvious resources of the copper and insulating sleeve, we could also identify the unused space within the sleeve, the current running through the copper and the air surrounding the wire but why stop there? Other resources could include oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide etc. that make up the air. The properties of the wire are also resources such as flexibility, width, circumference, temperature, texture etc. All of which, depending upon the nature of the problem, may be able to make a contribution towards a solution.

A good example of the efficient use of resources is that of the evolvement of corrosion testing.

Traditionally, corrosion testing laboratories used platinum lined vessels in which a sample of the subject to be tested would be placed along with a volume of acid (platinum being highly resistant to the corrosive effect of acid).The sample would be weighed prior to being placed in the acid for a specified period of time after which it was weighed again and the rate of corrosion calculated.

The problem with this though, is that platinum is extremely expensive and most laboratories only had one vessel with which to conduct the tests. This in turn meant that testing could only be carried out sequentially, being both costly and slow.

By identifying the immediately available and obvious resources a solution can quickly be found.

The subject to be tested can itself become the vessel. Simply bore a hole, weigh the subject, fill it with acid for a specified period of time, re-weigh the subject and make the required calculation.

This solution was not only cost effective but also meant that testing could now take place simultaneously, radically speeding up the process.

Through the systematic identification and prioritisation of resources it is possible to find low cost, efficient and environmentally friendly solutions without the need to introduce increased complexity as illustrated above.

To find out more about the use of resources and other systematic approaches to problem solving, idea generation and innovation, do get in touch.

Using existing resources to solve problems

When trying to solve a problem it makes good sense to use existing resources where possible, rather than introducing increased complexity and potential additional costs.

The identification and use of resources around a problem or in a system* is essential if we are to find good, cost effective and environmentally friendly solutions and improvements. The term ‘resources’ is all encompassing in this context and can include even negative or harmful resources.

Resources include anything (including waste) that is available in or around the problem or system, including its environment. This could be energy, free time, unoccupied space, the ability to jointly perform additional functions, a physical element, information and so on.

How to approach the use of resources

The first step is to identify what resources are available and then to prioritise them as follows:

  • ‘No cost’ resources that are already present in the system
  • Easily available resources that are outside the system which are ‘low cost’
  • All other resources that are available at a cost

In order o use resources to solve a problem, we can use the following process to analyse resources and their effectiveness:

  1. Formulate a list of resources
  2. Prioritise them as above ( local and ‘no cost’ at the top, costly and external at the bottom)
  3. Define what kind of resources are needed to solve the problem
  4. Evaluate and estimate each of the resources
  5. Prioritise them in respect of their effectiveness and usefulness to the given problem

Resources can be internal, external, local or remote and by exploring and using appropriate resources we can solve problems and improve the benefits of a system to a great extent and of course it makes good sense to optimise our use of resources for lots of reasons.

Other examples of resources that may be available include:

  • The elements of a system
  • Element properties
  • The reverse side of something
  • Idle time
  • Parallel processing time
  • The space inside an object
  • Etc.

Having prioritised them as described, the next step is to explore how they can be used to solve any problems in the system and how existing resources can fulfil any other useful functions.

Closely examining, understanding and using resources is ideal for helping to make improvements and potentially solve both technical and non technical problems and challenges.

There are too many specific applications for the use of resources to list them all but amongst them are:

  • Product/service design
  • Problem solving
  • Process improvement
  • Productivity improvement
  • The improvement of management systems
  • Down sizing
  • Reducing costs
  • Service improvement

If you would like more information please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

* The term system in this context is used to describe a product (or part of a product), a service, a problem or a process