Archive for August, 2011

The Search for Innovations

Point:  Use roving cross-functional teams to hunt for promising new product and service ideas.

Story:
In a world of large organizations and diverse global hotspots for R&D, innovation occurs everywhere.  Companies can tap those innovations through search processes, which may be cheaper and more effective than only using traditional “start from square one” R&D efforts.  The rationale: there may be no need to re-invent the wheel if the wheel already exists somewhere inside (or outside) your organization.

Here’s how multinationals General Mills and Whirlpool approached the search for innovations. General Mills formed two “innovation squads” consisting of six-to-eight employees selected from multiple functions. The squads are tasked with hunting for ideas from inside and outside the organization – one squad focuses on finding ideas internally, the other focuses on looking outside the organization.  The squads present the best ideas they’ve found to division heads. Once a quarter, the squads give their top 10 ideas to the company chairman.

For example, one squad found a patent for a new method of encapsulating calcium. The patent had been donated to a university. The squad converted it into a very successful new line of orange juice with added calcium that doesn’t taste chalky.

Similarly, Whirlpool designates some employees as innovation mentors – “i-mentors” – training them in innovation and tasking them with identifying promising new product ideas from across the organization. Whirlpool has 1000 i-mentors globally.  Most of the individuals self-identified and asked for the training, which consists of a formal training program that creates a common language for innovation and embeds innovation into an organizational competency the way Six Sigma training does. Whirlpool developed “how-to” guides for its innovators, including analysis of who has contact with whom [network analysis].

Action:

  • Explicitly designate individuals or teams to look for innovations
  • Provide innovation training to these cross-functional teams
  • Cast a wide net when searching for good ideas
  • Filter, refine, and present the best ideas for funding/implementation decisions

Sources:

“Unleashing Innovation,” Research-Technology Management, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_6714/is_1_52/ai_n31337091/

Mason Carpenter and Sanjyot P. Dunung, “Harnessing the Engine of Global Innovation” in International Business, Flatworld Knowledge, August 2011 http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/pub/international-business/524265#web-524265

Jessie Scanlon, “How Whirlpool Puts New Ideas Through the Wringer,” http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/aug2009/id2009083_452757.ht

Peter Erickson, “Innovating on Innovation” Keynote Presentation at the Front End of Innovation Conference, Boston, MA, May 2009

No Comments »Case study, Growth, How-to, Innovation, International, New Product Development, R&D

Frugal Innovation at NASA

Point:  Budget constraints demand frugal innovation.

Story:  In 2005, NASA’s Constellation program – tasked with designing a way to get humans to the moon and eventually to Mars – suffered a 45% reduction in R&D budgets during the process of getting Constellation running.   “We knew those resources weren’t coming back,” said Jeff Davis, Director of the Space Life Sciences Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “We thought to ourselves, we can’t get this done just doing 45% less. We need to approach this whole program in a new way.”

Davis’ team looked for new ways to work and began exploring alliances and external innovation platforms. The team hit upon the idea of using open innovation challenges at about the same time that President Obama’s Open Government Initiative encouraged public participation and the Office of Management and Budget issued guidelines on using prizes to spur public participation to solve innovation challenges.

Using the InnoCentive platform, Davis’ team issued an open innovation challenge entitled, “Data Driven Forecasting of Solar Events,” seeking solutions for how to predict particle storms that would pose a hazard to the Constellation spacecraft above the earth’s atmosphere. An engineer from rural New Hampshire provided the winning solution. White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra described the results:

“I share with you the results of NASA’s early experience with Innocentive’s scientific expert network platform, a platform of 200,000 scientists, where NASA said it would pose a few difficult scientific challenges.  One of the challenges was, ‘how can we forecast solar activity to better predict when to release our rockets into space?’” This was a vexing problem that NASA had been grappling with for more than 30 years.  By putting the challenge out to the public, a semi-retired radio frequency engineer living in rural New Hampshire had the opportunity to share his idea on how to address the problem. [All the engineer needed] was a simple Internet connection.  No complicated RFP, the need for a lobbyist, some convoluted process – just a smart person in our country who could help solve a difficult scientific challenge and was paid a modest $30,000 for that insight.”

Action:

  • Consider open innovation methods such as external challenges as a cost-efficient way to spur innovation.
  • Subdivide large R&D efforts into smaller R&D challenges that members of an open innovation crowd are more likely to be able to address
  • Use a pre-existing platform to quickly reach a critical mass of solvers

Sources:
Open Innovation Marketplace, by Alpheus Bingham and Dwayne Spradlin, Financial Times Press, 2011.

Aneesh Chopra, “Rethinking Government” address to the Personal Democracy Forum 2010, posted June 12, 2010

NASA Innovation Pavilion on InnoCentive.com

2 Comments »Case study, How-to, Innovation, open innovation, R&D, Strategy