Archive for April, 2009

Identify Priority Innovation Areas

Point: Define priority innovation areas to harness employee energy

Story: When it comes to innovation, Harrah’s Entertainment doesn’t play games. The operator of a global chain of 50 casinos is pursuing a theme-focused innovation strategy similar to technology giant Hewlett-Packard and venture capital firm The Foundry Group. The company identified six areas of interest (akin to HP’s 8 themes and Foundry’s 5 themes – see Innovation Investment Strategy). Harrah’s target areas are: enabling technologies (such as wireless and radio frequency identification); enabling platforms (cloud computing, service-oriented architecture, anything-as-a-service); “smart” service (self-service kiosks); interactive CRM; next-generation gaming; and expanded channels to reach customers.

An innovation team of about 10 people from IT, marketing, customer service and gaming evaluate idea submissions from employees. Harrah’s also taps the innovations of vendors and is considering enlisting the public in seeking new innovations in gaming and entertainment. To gather even more feedback, Harrah’s created an “Innovation Portal” where employees can vote for their favorite innovation. Top management (CEO Gary Loveman and VP of Innovation Chris Chang) then decides which ideas ultimately get funded.


  • Identify the areas of top priority to your firm, to help steer energy & momentum in the areas that will provide most value to your firm.
  • Use themes to look for the deeper, long-term enablers and platforms rather than shallow short-term gadgets and projects.
  • Ask employees for suggestions, feedback or votes on ideas within these areas
  • Consider involving vendors, customers and the public as well, to expand the pool of ideas. (This strategy will require thinking through the IP issues.)

For more information on Harrah’s: Network Computing article

8 Comments »Case study, Customers, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Strategy

Innovating in Emerging Markets: Tata & Unilever

Point: How you get a product to market may be as important as what you get to market.

Story: The previous post looked at product systems innovation to build a new car. Going a step further: some companies expand the systems thinking to include distribution and service. Consider Tata Motors, which created the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano. To reach a retail price of $2,000, Tata focused on the costs of every system of car, including the system for distributing and selling the car. To keep costs low, Tata created a modular design and an innovative distribution model. Tata will manufacture modules centrally and, in some cases, ship the cars as kits to local entrepreneurs who will assemble & sell them. Tata designed to the modules to be glued together rather than welded because gluing is less expensive and doesn’t require costly welding equipment. Tata will also train the entrepreneurs to do servicing.

Similarly, Hindustan Unilever pioneered a distribution model in 2001 to get its personal care products into the hands of rural villagers. A significant fraction of rural villages lack paved roads, making traditional truck-based distribution very difficult. The company developed a network of 14,000 women and women-owned co-ops to serve 50,000 villages. The women handle the logistics and door-to-door retailing of a range of personal care products. To address the needs of the market and the novel distribution system, Hindustan Unilever changed product packaging. By using this approach, Hindustan Unilever does not have to deal with the problem of moving product in rural India. The women or their employees come to the company’s urban distribution centers to get the product.

* When designing new products or services, consider how those products will be distributed.
* Think about the role that local entrepreneurs or business partners can serve
* Design the product to support the distribution channel (e.g., modularity, ease of assembly, packaging, etc.)

For more information: Vijay Govindarajan discussed Tata Motors’ strategy at the HSM webinar on March 18 and will be speaking at the World Innovation Forum being held May 5-6, 2009 in New York City

Hindustan Unilever’s distribution model: Discussed at MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics Roundtable on Supply Chain Strategies in Emerging Markets led by Dr. Edgar Blanco.

4 Comments »Case study, Entrepreneurs, Growth, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Opportunity, Strategy

Managing Innovation: Toyota’s Strategy

Point: Take a Systems Approach to Innovation

Story: I had the opportunity to ask Bill Reinert, national managerbillreinertphoto2 of advanced technology at Toyota Motor Corporation, how he manages innovation. His answer was multi-faceted, so I’ll describe his ideas over several blog posts. First, let’s look at the numerous innovations that Reinert and his team integrated into the Toyota Prius hybrid automobile. For the 2010 Prius, Toyota took a systems approach to innovation. That is, rather than simply changing one subsystem, the company redesigned many aspects of the car to achieve the end goal of fuel economy. The Prius isn’t just a regular Toyota car with the combustion engine swapped-out for a hybrid drive system.

To achieve the best possible fuel economy, the 2010 Prius has extensive aerodynamic features. The front, sides, top, back, and bottom are all designed to minimize drag-inducing air turbulence. The changes are much more than cosmetic. Reinert’s team replaced the rarely-seen rough underside of a normal car with smooth aerodynamic panels and two little winglets that reduce drag in the air that passes between the road and the car. Even the wheelhouse liner and shape of the wheels help reduce the drag. The result is that the Prius’ shape gives it a lower coefficient of drag than the “sleek-looking” sports cars on the road.

To reduce fuel-guzzling weight, the team made the battery an integral structural part of the car, not just a bolt-on box. Nothing escaped the team’s scrutiny. The team even improved the interface between the car and driver. The car now provides real-time feedback on fuel consumption and power system activity — something that hypermilers love. Specifically, the new 2010 Prius offers three performance modes in which it can be driven, each at the touch of a button. The car can be driven in EV-Mode (running off the battery alone for about 10 miles), Power Mode for snappy acceleration, and Eco Mode for fuel-sipping energy conservation. The different modes actually change how the car responds to the gas pedal: Eco Mode means that even a lead-footed driver gets better gas mileage. Finally, the new Prius has a solar-powered fan on its roof that cools the cabin temperature so that drivers don’t have to blast the air conditioning when first entering the car.

In all, Toyota created more than 1000 patents during the development of the Prius, resulting in an EPA estimated city/highway mpg rating of 50 in the city, 49 on the highway and a combined 50 mpg.


  • Think about the ultimate purpose of some proposed or available innovation (e.g., a hybrid powertrain can improve fuel economy)
  • Examine other design elements for opportunities to achieve that purpose (e.g., aerodynamic shape improves fuel economy)
  • Provide users with product features that help them achieve that purpose (e.g., add controls and displays that affect and monitor performance)
  • Integrate all the improvements together to mutually reinforce the ultimate purpose.

For more information: Bill Reinert at the Conference on World Affairs

3 Comments »Case study, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Strategy

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