Access the world’s knowledge of inventive principles

It is estimated that 99.7% of all problems have been solved somewhere and at some point in time. The solution may have been found to solve a similar problem in an unrelated industry on the other side of the globe and the solution may have been discovered many years ago. Nonetheless, it is extremely rare to encounter a problem where a solution has not already been developed.

The problem with this though, is that the task of researching and collating all this information is a massive one and probably too daunting to be seriously considered by most of us but how useful would it be to have access to all this knowledge especially when faced with really tough technical problems?

Those of you that are familiar with TRIZ (Geinrich Altschuller’s approach to inventive problem solving) will probably be aware that an easily accessible database of this knowledge already exists.

Altschuller defines the really tough technical problems that we face as either physical or technical contradictions.

A physical contradiction creates a conflict with the same parameters. For example, a coffee cup should be hot to keep the coffee inside hot but it should also be cold so that it can be comfortably held by the user. Here the same parameter ‘heat’ needs to be high and low, therefore a physical contradiction exists. Physical contradictions are solved using one of four separation principles by separating in time, in space, between parts and the whole or upon condition.

Technical contradictions on the other hand occur when different parameters are in conflict with each other. For example, the motor should run faster but at the same time it should not generate more heat and therefore the parameters of speed and temperature are in conflict. Technical contradictions are typically solved through compromise but Altschuller claims that problems should be solved without compromise. But how?

Altschuller spent much of his time analysing patents from all over the world in a bid to identify if there were any repeatable patterns that could assist with problem solving. This analysis (initially based upon approximately 50,000 patents) led him to identify just 40 inventive principles that successfully solve technical contradictions. Subsequently millions of patents have been analysed and the original 40 inventive principles remain the same.

Altschuller also found that there are 39 standard parameters which might conflict with one another in a system (speed and temperature being two of them). These 39 parameters can create 1482 possible conflicts.

By placing these parameters on a 39 x 39 matrix these 1482 conflicts become clear and it is possible to immediately identify which of the 40 inventive principles have been used before to solve these conflicts, putting the world’s knowledge of inventive principles at your fingertips.

Systematically solving physical and technical contradictions is just one of the many proven tools and processes that greatly assist with problem solving and innovation. If you would like more information on TRIZ and our other systematic approaches or if you would like to receive a copy of the contradiction matrix, I would love to hear from you.

Innovation Pipeline – Managing Your Innovation Flow

Ensuring that you have a constant stream of innovation that brings new products and services to fruition at precisely the desired point in time (today and into the future) is hardly ever going to be a precise science. However, wouldn’t it be great to sleep at night knowing that your current portfolio of products and services are brimming with innovation and in great demand by your customers and that you are totally confident that your pipeline of your future products and services is similarly robust?

In my new book, Systematic Innovation, I introduce a framework for managing innovation ‘flow’, The Innovation Pipeline.

IP Diagram

The model is comprised of 7 segments from IP-1 to IP-7, each representing a different set of core activities that contribute towards managing innovation. It can also be populated by your products and services at their varying stages of development and lifecycle. Outside the model (IP-0) is the total market for all your potential products and services, the land of opportunity.

IP-1 (Seedlings) is populated by early ideas for potential products and services that have not as yet been researched or explored. They may or may not have future potential and the activities that take place in IP-1 are those that identify the possibility of potential for a new product or service in the market.

IP-2 (Research) is focussed on research to establish the potential and viability of a new product or service idea or concept.

IP-3 (Development) is focussed on the activities that contribute towards the development of products, services or solutions that get them to a state where they are as strong as they possibly can be prior to implementation.

IP-4 (Implementation) is about turning our new products, services or solution into reality.

IP-5 (New) contains our newly launched products, services and solutions.

IP-6 (Existing) contains your existing established products and services.

IP-7 (Dying) contains your products and services that are reaching the end of their life.

Assuming we are doing enough of the right activities in each segment and that each segment contains the right products and services, on the face of it things should be pretty straightforward. On the surface the model is really quite logical and easy to grasp.

It is beneath the surface that things begin to get a little more complicated.

The ‘Healthy’ Innovation Pipeline

The healthy Innovation Pipeline will be balanced in line with the needs of the business. It makes sense, therefore, to be clear from the outset what the business will look like in say two to three years hence. For example, what products and services will be in your portfolio, which (if any) products and services will have been dropped, how many new products and services will be launched, how many new products and services will be in the pipeline to enable you to sleep well at night?

Once we are clear about the above and more, the healthy Innovation Pipeline will be managed in a way that ensures you have the best possible chance of your ideal future position becoming a reality. It is the ‘engine’ that delivers a successful portfolio of existing and developing products and services.

The key is in understanding the meaningful activities required in each segment and in ensuring excellence in their execution.

Other Considerations

When managing your innovation pipeline it is important to consider the following key points:

  • Successful new products, services and solutions come about as the result of a culmination of the activities that create them. Therefore, we should focus on managing the right activities (inputs) so that we get a desirable flow of new products, services or solutions (outputs). This is not just about the quantity of the right activities but also the quality.
  • Be mindful of the time lag between the necessary development activities and the launch of new products, which in many instances will be years. To create a desirable flow of new products and product developments, activities will need to be balanced and required consistently in each segment of the innovation pipeline.
  • The desirability of new products and services will be dependent upon your understanding of customers and markets and the identification of problems or where there will be demand for the additional benefits that your new products and services will bring.

This is a huge subject and the above is only a quick introduction to what could make a significant difference to an organisation’s future success.

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.

Innovations weakest link?

Our experience has been that for many organisations the weakest part of their product/service development and/or problem solving processes is the ability to generate sufficient volumes of quality ideas and concepts. This is potentially the result of the many individual, group and leadership behaviours that suppress our ability to generate ideas (see previous blogs).

This is supported by some research ‘Trends in Concept Design’ conducted by PTC (a leading provider of technology solutions) in which respondents were asked to quote the average number of design alternatives explored during the concept design stage when developing new products. The most frequent response was 3.

When asked to respond to the statement “We would benefit immensely by exploring more design alternatives during concept design”, 92% agreed.

This clearly highlights the need for more emphasis to be placed on the development of ideas and concepts earlier in the innovation process.

We also know from experience that the application of systematic thinking tools and processes deliver instant results in terms of increasing the number of quality ideas and concepts produced. To highlight this, a client recently found four workable solutions within three hours to a difficult technical problem that a team of eight engineers had been focussed on (and perplexed by) for six months by simply applying two of the numerous tools and processes that exist.

If successful systematic thinking tools and processes are easy to learn and apply, why are not more organisations focussed on their use?

As part of my on-going research into the critical success factors of innovation I would very much welcome any thoughts you may have on this.

Transformational Leadership and Innovation

Transformational Leadership is widely considered as the most popular approach to leadership today. Not only popular but also widely regarded as the most effective.

There is an abundance of research evidence that clearly demonstrates that groups led by Transformational Leaders have higher levels of performance and satisfaction than other groups led by a different type of leader.

Transformational Leaders have positive expectations and believe that their followers can do their best. They inspire, empower and stimulate followers to exceed ‘normal’ levels of performance.

The concept of Transformational Leadership was initially introduced by James MacGregor Burns (leadership expert and presidential biographer) and later built upon by researcher Bernard Bass. Bass proposes that Transformational Leadership can be defined according to the impact it has on the followers of a Transformational Leader. It engenders the trust, respect and admiration of followers. Bass also suggests that there are four key components to Transformational Leadership.

The Four Components of Transformational Leadership

Idealised Influence – Transformational Leaders are a role model, they ‘walk the talk’. Followers trust and respect the leader, they emulate this and internalise his or her values and ideals. This in turn helps develop the follower’s leadership characteristics.

Inspirational Motivation – Transformational Leaders inspire and motivate followers. They have a clear vision and are able to articulate it in an inspirational way. Their behaviour provides real meaning and challenge to the work of their followers.

Intellectual Stimulation – Transformational Leaders have and demonstrate a genuine concern for the needs and feelings of followers. Their lines of communication are open and followers feel free and at ease to share ideas that are recognised. Concern is given to the individual development needs of followers.

Individual Consideration – Transformational Leaders solicit new and innovative approaches towards the performance of work and challenge followers to be innovative and creative. They encourage solutions to problems from followers.

Whilst Transformational Leadership is not only the most popular approach to leadership today but also widely regarded as the most effective, it is easy to see the clear link between Transformational Leadership and the need to successfully foster innovation, problem solving and creativity.

Transformational Leadership is about transforming the performance and future success of a business and as such requires new approaches, new ideas, solutions to problems and innovation. It is no surprise therefore, that these qualities feature heavily in the four components of Transformational Leadership and are actively encouraged and supported in followers by Transformational Leaders.

What does it take to become a Transformational Leader?

To set yourself on a path to become a Transformational Leader, the following guidelines should prove valuable.

  • Create a clear, inspirational and highly appealing vision for followers
  • Make the link between the vision and the strategies to attain it clear
  • Articulate the vision in an inspirational and passionate way (use colourful and emotive language)
  • Consistently demonstrate confidence and belief in the vision
  • Demonstrate with conviction your confidence in your follower’s ability to contribute towards and fulfil the vision
  • Model exemplary behaviours that reflect your total commitment to the vision and organisational values
  • Recognise the success of followers
  • Demonstrate a genuine interest in the needs and feelings of individual followers
  • Challenge followers to be innovative, creative and to find solutions to problems

By embracing the above you will be making a significant contribution to creating an innovative culture where great ideas can flourish and solutions to problems will be found.

Time and discipline – innovations best friends

I remember running a workshop some years ago for a group of engineers. The aim was to develop their ability to generate innovative ideas and concepts when developing solutions for clients.

The workshop was a resounding success and by breaking psychological inertia and introducing a small number of systematic thinking tools and processes, there was a remarkable increase in the numbers of ideas and concepts that they were able to produce.

The participants were wonderfully enthusiastic and highly motivated and the feedback at the end of the workshop reflected the success of the day. I drove home that evening with a smile a smile of satisfaction on my face believing I had made a real difference. That is after all, the one thing above all others that drives me to do what I do.

I also recall the follow up workshop that took place some weeks later to explore how things were going.

The feedback from the initial workshop remained extremely positive and it was clear that the training had hit the mark.

I then asked the participants to share their experiences of using the tools and processes that they had been introduced to. They looked at one another expectantly and then turned to me as their expressions fell blank other than slight signs of awkwardness and embarrassment.

‘I’ve not really had the opportunity’ was one reason put forward for the lack of application of the tools and processes. ‘I’ve just been too busy’ was another.

This was followed by pretty much unanimous agreement that these were the main barriers they had met to successfully implementing the work we had done.

Upon further exploration the truth of the matter was, there had been an abundance of opportunities and lack of time and opportunity had simply been excuses.

It occurred to me then that simply giving people new skills or tools and processes that they wholeheartedly embrace and value is simply not enough (in hindsight this was obvious).

Reasons for the lack of implementation can be attributed to a number of things. Insufficient management support, psychological inertia, lack of motivation being amongst them.

In my mind, these are more often than not also excuses. Contributing factors perhaps but still excuses. After all ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. You can give people opportunities but you can’t make them think’.

If you want to be more innovative, find great solutions and generate great ideas and concepts there are two essential ingredients. Finding or creating time to do it and having the discipline to apply effective thinking tools and processes.

It really is as simple as that.

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.