Archive for the 'Case study' Category

Innovation: Harnessing 3.8 Billion Years of R&D

Point: If you’re stuck on how to solve a problem, see if nature has already solved that problem.

Story: Nature has already solved many challenges; the best solutions have survived and improved through evolution.

Consider this example: termite mounds such as those of the Macrotermes michaelseni exist in African environments where the external temperature varies from 35°F at night to 104°F during the day. The living areas inside the termite mounds, however, maintain a constant internal temperature within one degree of 87 °F, day and night.  Millions of years of evolution perfected the termites’ construction habits so that their mounds’ passive solar design and networks of air conduits create a self-cooling ventilation system.

How can humans put this termite-inspired solution to use? Architect Mick Pearce collaborated with engineers at Arup Associates to design a mid-rise building in Harare, Zimbabwe, called Eastgate, that has no air-conditioning, yet stays cool. The Eastgate Center is the largest office and shopping complex in Zimbabwe, but it uses only only 10% of the energy of a conventional building its size. Not only is this good for the environment, but it lowers costs for building occupants. Eastgate occupants pay 20% lower rents than do occupants in nearby buildings pay.

How did Pearce design this building? He looked a 3D digital scans of termite mounds, manipulating them in computer models to understand how the tunnel system works to exchange gases and regulate temperature and humidity. It turns out that the termite mounds operate on a system of convection currents that draw air at the lower part of the mound down to the bottom and then exhaust heated air to the top. The termites open and close ducts by digging new vents and plugging up old ones.  At Eastgate, Pearce installed electronically-controlled fans on the first floor to suck in outside air and then push it up along a central spine, venting it through chimneys at the top.

 

Action

  • If you have a problem to solve, think about the plants and animals that may have had the similar problem. Look to sites like AskNature.org or the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute
  • Study nature for inspirations and ideas that you can adapt
  • If you don’t have time to do this yourself, consider holding an innovation contest with InnoCentive, NineSigma, or Yet2.com to solicit ideas from biologists, oceanographers, etc. who could apply knowledge from the biological world to tackle your problem.

Sources:

Janine Beyrus, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, chapter 1

Biomimicry 3.8 Institute

Abigail Doan, Green Building in Zimbabwe Modeled After Termite Mounds | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

No Comments »Case study, How-to, Innovation

Pixar: Space as an Instrument for Collaboration

Point: Design physical spaces for unplanned collaborations that spark creativity.

Story: One place to look for advice on designing physical spaces for creativity and collaboration is Stanford’s design school, the birthplace of design thinking as we know it today. (The term dates back to Herbert Simon’s 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial and was further explained by Robert McKim’s book, Experiences in Visual Thinking, but it was Stanford’s Rolf Faste and David Kelley who popularized the term and applied it to business.)

Now, Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft, co-directors of the Environments Collaborative at the d.school, have written a book, Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration that’s full of advice and case studies of these creative spaces.

David Kelley, founder of IDEO and of the d.school, writes in the book’s forward: “Regardless of whether it’s a classroom or the offices of a billion-dollar company, space is something to think of as an instrument for innovation and collaboration. Space is a valuable tool that can help you create deep and meaningful collaborations in your work and life.”

Example: Pixar
A real-life example of a physical space that encourages creative collaboration is the building that houses Pixar, the computer animation studio that created innovative, Academy-award-winning blockbuster films like Toy Story, Monsters and Finding Nemo.

As Walter Isaacson writes in his biography of Steve Jobs, Jobs designed the Pixar building to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” Jobs said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”  The front doors and main stairs and corridors all lead to a central atrium, where a cafe and employee mailboxes are located as well.

John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar, confirmed the success of the building’s layout: “Steve’s theory worked from day one. I kept running into people I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.”

Action

  • Create open spaces and natural gathering places that draw people out of their offices and into the collaborative social space.
  • Organize entrances, stairways, and passage ways to intersect in ways that encourage random encounters and mingling (help people congregate rather than segregate).
  • Offer movable walls, whiteboards on wheels, lightweight movable furniture (put things on casters), and other flexible objects to encourage reconfiguration and organic development of the work environment.

3 Comments »Case study, CEO, Creativity, How-to, Innovation

GameChanger: Open Innovation through Angel Investing

Point: Create an internal venture fund to incubate revolutionary ideas.

Story: This week’s Innovation Summit at the Shell Technology Center Houston (STCH) highlighted the need for innovation and collaboration to solve society’s most pressing challenges. As the world’s problems become more complex, the best way to tackle them is with a cross-disciplinary approach.

What are some ways that companies can foster this multidisciplinary collaboration to achieve breakthrough innovation? One way is to create an open mechanism inside the company that solicits promising ideas regardless of where they come from — including outside the company — and offering seed funding that’s outside of the company’s traditional R&D programs to give them time to develop.

GameChanger

Shell is doing this with its GameChanger program, headed by Russ Conser.  GameChanger seeks out and invests in early-stage ideas that could potentially revolutionize the energy industry. GameChanger plays the role of an angel investor; a panel screens ideas and selects ones to fund. Idea submissions can come from any Shell employee as well as from outside the company.

Shell actively solicits ideas from academics and entrepreneurs alike through its web site www.shell.com/GameChanger.  Ideas that pass the initial screen receive seed money — $25,000 to develop a robust proposal and on up to $500,000- $1 million a year to actually test and develop ideas that graduate into projects.

Example

For example, Erik Cornelissen, a research scientist, was in a toy store looking for a gift for his nephews when he saw a science toy that many of us have seen before: a dinosaur that grows in size when placed in water. A nifty, fun gift. But Erik made a connection back to a perplexing problem that had plagued Shell and other oil companies for a long time. Specifically, oil wells contain water, not just oil. Over time, more and more water gets pumped up relative to oil.  Not only does that make the well less productive, but it pumps water that increasingly is becoming a scarce resource itself. The question is, how to detect that water and prevent it from mixing with the oil?

Erik realized that the same principle behind the dinosaur toy — a material that expands upon contact with water — could be applied at the oil well. Erik needed to identify a “swellable elastomer” that would seal off the pipe when water started to mix with the oil flowing through it. The idea was not difficult to articulate or explain, but finding this kind of material proved long and difficult. GameChanger provided Erik with the time and funding he needed to go through hundreds of experiments to find the elastomer that fit the demanding conditions at the oil well site.

Results

About 40% of Shell’s core Exploration & Development R&D portfolio has evolved from ideas submitted to GameChanger, and 70% of the GameChanger portfolio includes collaboration with people outside of Shell.

Since its inception in 1996, GameChanger has funded 3000 ideas, investing $350 million and resulting in 250 commercial projects, said Gerald Schotman, EVP, Innovation, R&D and Chief Technology Officer at Shell.

Action

• Publicize clear and explicit selection criteria, so external submitters know what you want and will fund.  For example, GameChanger uses 3 primary criteria:

  1. Novelty: is the idea truly and fundamentally new and different? (There’s no point in funding ideas that would qualify as traditional R&D projects.)
  2. Value: Could the idea create substantial new value if it works? (Wild ideas are welcome, but ultimately they need to deliver value if they come to fruition.)
  3. Credible Plan: is there a plan to manage risks prudently? (New ideas are risky, but many risks can be identified up front and plans can be put in place to stay ahead of them.)

• Have an end game for how you’ll commercialize an idea that demonstrates feasibility. For example, GameChanger uses 3 commercialization strategies:

  1. Move the idea into the company’s internal R&D portfolio.
  2. License the idea externally.
  3. Spin off a new company to bring the idea to market.

2 Comments »Capital, Case study, Entrepreneurs, Growth, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, open innovation, R&D, Strategy

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