Patents – Licenses – Maybe a game of Bluff!

June 8th, 2021

                                                                                          By Roger La Salle

                                                                                                                   www.innovationtraining.com.au

                                                                                                                   www.matrixthinking.com

It’s tough out there

Unfortunately, the business of new products is a tough one with some products that seem like absolute winners somehow never able to succeed, yet others that on the surface would appear to be worthless, becoming raging successes.

My favorite example is the Rubik Cube. Who would ever have anticipated the success of this product, or indeed the failure of its fast follower that used triangular shapes to try and create a similar challenge?

No Patent – no profit!

The recent “Fidget Finger Spinner” fad is also a great example, so too may be the Yo-yo and the Tamagotchi digital play toy of some years back. Interestingly, the lady who invented the Fidget Spinner reportedly did not seek a patent and evidently she made no money from this amazing fad.

The question of patents is a difficult one, but one thing is for sure, too many are too quick to lodge patent applications, often at great expense and seeking protection in too many jurisdictions. This happens as people move quickly to protect what they believe is a great opportunity. This, even before they have done a proper technical feasibility study, costings, market research or even searched prior art.

All this and yet the percentage of patents that actually turn a profit is frighteningly small. Moreover, even with a granted patent, unless there is the wherewithal to defend an infringement, a patent may be of little value in any case. The exception here for the “small player” is to seek to license the product to a larger company that is prepared to fund an action against infringement.

License Agreements

This raises the issue of the License agreements and the need to spell out clearly on just whose shoulders the onus of defending the patent will fall. Of course the aim is to put this liability on to the licensee, but in our experience no licensee will take this risk unconditionally. A license agreement is the aim of many, but beware the pitfalls and the tricks that can be played, even with what may seem a water tight agreement.

In one case we were involved with after the event, a license agreement was made and a Royalty agreed, but what was not agreed was at what time after the product was released the royalties payments would commence. This may seem surprising, but none the less this oversight led to unfortunate and costly legal issues, even though the product was an outstanding success.

What’s the message?

Unless you are a major corporation, patents and IPR can be somewhat a game of bluff with many unforeseen turns, but it’s a game that if well executed can reap rich rewards.

More will be said about this in another post and perhaps an answer to the “64 Million Dollar question”, “what constitutes a good idea” and moreover, how does one systematically search for one?

                                                                        **** ENDS ****

Roger La Salle, trains people in innovation, marketing and the new emerging art of Opportunity Capture. Several of Roger’s own inventions are on display in technology museums in Australia. Roger created “Matrix Thinking”™, now used in organizations in more than 29 countries. He is sought after as a speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and Business Development, is the author of four books, and a Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australia and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panellist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at Queens University in Belfast.

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Do they work – Confidentiality Agreements?

April 30th, 2021

                                                                                          By Roger La Salle

                                                                                                                   www.innovationtraining.com.au

                                                                                                                   www.matrixthinking.com

Keep it secret

When we wish to engage with others in relation to our innovations, naturally, we are keen to protect our ideas and have confidence our interests are not betrayed, either accidently or deliberately by the other party.

There are generally two ways we can try to do this. The first is by some sort of IP Registration such as Patents, in the case of tangibles, or perhaps a Trademark or Design Registration. Interestingly, copyright can be claimed by the simple insertion of this symbol © (Cnt-Alt C) at the end of your text with the date and ideally the name of the creator. To validate the date, one simple way is to send yourself a Registered Letter with the written work inside and leave it unopened until there is a need to prove the date claimed.

The alternative way to try and protect your interests is with a Non-Disclosure Agreement. In the past we have found these to be somewhat problematic. Indeed apart from attempts at restraint of trade or restrictions of trade secrets in the case of departing employees, we have found most NDA’s to be next to useless and almost impossible to enforce.

The common problem

In general all NDA’s have a clause that in effect voids the agreement if the information disclosed:

  • was in the public domain, or in the Recipient’s possession prior to the date of this agreement
  • comes into the public domain after the date of this agreement
  • is supplied to the Recipient by another party who is under no obligation of confidence to the Disclosing Party.

The problem with this clause is that, apart from entirely new IP, of which there is little, most inventions are usually a combination of already known components. On this basis an argument can be made, though perhaps somewhat tenuous, that the disclosed information was already in the Public Domain.

The new Clause

In order to overcome the possibility of an argument that a disclosure was valid as the information was already available, we have added a vital new clause. This clause is simple and straight to the point and makes it a strict betrayal of confidence if any disclosure is made by the receiving party.

The clause:        The recipient may be aware that some or all of the technology(s) required to implement the innovation/invention disclosed herein may already be in the public domain however in signing this document the Recipient agrees not to disclose or discuss with another party in any manner the innovation/invention that is the subject of this agreement.

The Outcome

Clearly the outcome of the addition of this one simple clause means that any disclosure by the recipient is a betrayal of confidence, there can be no argument.

To this end, we suggest you adopt this or a similar clause in your NDA.

                                                            **** ENDS ****

Roger La Salle, trains people in innovation, marketing and the new emerging art of Opportunity Capture. “Matrix Thinking”™ is now used in organizations in more than 29 countries. He is sought after as a speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and Business Development, is the author of four books, and a Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies, both in Australia and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panellist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast. Several of Roger’s own inventions are on display in museums in Australia.

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Observation – One key to unlocking amazing Innovations!

February 24th, 2021

By Roger La Salle

                                                                                                              www.innovationtraining.com.au

                                                                                                              www.matrixthinking.com

The previous Business Insight was about process innovation, with more to follow on product innovation. However some readers commented that many Western economies are now largely service based, so what has process innovation got to do with that?

Be assured, Process Innovation is not confined to the manufacturing sector. It’s just as relevant to any business, or indeed life itself.

The Service is unchanged – The profit gain is enormous

Consider three stunning examples of business processes undertaken with insightful observations that achieve outcomes out of all proportion to the simple changes made.

Trains:               In one case a rail company was looking to update its fleet of suburban commuter trains, which ran every seven minutes stopping at 30 stations along the route. In considering the design for new carriages a review was made of the process involved in people getting on and off the trains.

It was observed, not surprisingly, that the “hang time” (how long a train spends at a platform) when passengers are boarding and alighting related to the number of people using the service, with peak times of course showing the longest interval.

In considering ways of reducing hang time, experiments were conducted with different seating configurations to allow better people movement and door openings also increased from 1.9m to 2.3m. The investigation concluded that optimal seating arrangement and door openings of 2.2m would considerably reduce average hang time by an average of 14 seconds per stop. This may seem insignificant, but across 30 stations this amounted to seven minutes.

With a seven-minute train frequency, this tiny saving per station allowed the company to operate with the same service, but with one less complete train. The saving in capital outlay ran to tens of millions of dollars.

Airlines:            The second case involved a major USA based airline looking to improve profits by training staff to be more vigilant for opportunities.

An alert flight attendant observed that on meal-services where a salad was provided, most people chose not to eat the olive in the salad. Further, the company providing the prepacked salads had a pricing scheme that allowed three ingredients for a low standard price. Any fourth ingredient, in this case the olive, was supplied at a much higher marginal cost.  When the flight attendant observed the wastage of the olive the suggestion was made to dispense with it as a normal salad ingredient. Instead, olives could be offered from a jar kept in the galley to any customer who requested one. The effect on customers was practically nil, but the cost saving ran to more than $500,000 a year – just for withholding a seemingly insignificant olive.

Couriers:          Another well documented example is for courier drivers in the USA that, in city deliveries, will drive further rather than make a left turn into traffic. The time saved by this simple rule is said to run into millions of dollars annually in time and wages saved.

What’s the message?

It doesn’t matter what you do, there are almost always hidden ways to make improvements. Even the smallest change can sometimes deliver huge profits.

Have you taught your people the art of “observation, it’s fun and it’s easy. The most potent example is that of a blind person that can detect all sorts of things by sound alone. Sighted people can as well, but they are “blinded” by their ability to see. A simple experiment easily proves the point and opens the way to much heightened alertness and observation.

                                                          **** ENDS ****

Roger La Salle, trains people in innovation, marketing and the new emerging art of Opportunity Capture. “Matrix Thinking”™ is now used in organizations in more than 29 countries. He is sought after as a speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and Business Development, is the author of four books, and a Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies, both in Australia and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panelist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast.

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February 15th, 2021

Are you asking the right Question?

By Roger La Salle

Innovation is about finding better ways of doing – Whatever it is you do!

As we know, a good definition of Innovation is “Change that adds Value” and embracing this term opens the way to make innovation a relatively straight forward exercise, providing you are asking the right question.

How many times do we solve a problem and even implement a solution, only to then realise had we asked a better question we may have come up with a much better solution. How many times do we convene a meeting without having a specific one sentence idea of exactly what we wish to achieve in that meeting?

Being able to crystallise an issue in to a single sentence question is so important, but few people implement that valuable practice.

Have you found the best question?

To put this into context, let me pose the question, and have you think of the answer, before reading on:

  • What is the specific purpose of a written job application?

The obvious answer is to get the job, but this incorrect.

The sole purpose of the written job application is to get an interview, to get in front of the people making the selection.

With that clear purpose in mind, a written job application takes on a different form. Indeed, what you leave out of your application is just as important as what you include. Your application should be a hook to catch the reader. It should lead the readers to a point where they wish to speak with you to learn more. This is quite a different approach from writing everything you can think of in the hope that you will win the job. The written application never wins you the job, it’s just the starting point in the process.

Yet another incorrectly asked question occurs in real estate sales where too much money is wasted on useless advertising, possibly to the benefit of the real estate agent who may receive a commission, but of little value to the vendor.

The question to ask is:

 ”What are you trying to achieve by advertising a house for sale?”

The obvious answer is to sell the property, but this is incorrect.

Nobody purchases a property based on the pictures or just an advertisement.

The real purpose of the advertisement is to create an inquiry, to make the real estate agents phone ring. With this question in mind, perhaps the best advertisement is one that simply refers to a stunning residence and shows only a single picture to capture the imagination of the reader.

For example a house with stunning ocean views need only show the view. That will make the phone ring as an inquiry from an inquisitive party.

The above are just two examples of where the wrong question has been asked, and consequently the wrong answer found. It is essential to properly define the objective, the real issue before you search for an answer.

Too close to the problem

To cite another example, recently a workshop was undertaken in a large multinational trading bank, the team came to the session wanting to resolve the question – “How can we reduce the cost to businesses wishing to raise a Letter of Credit (LC)?”  This seemed like a sensible question and was workshopped by the group for a time until they came to the “Re -Question Catalyst in the Innovation Matrix.

So challenged to “Re-question” the group dug deep searching to find the real reason they wished to lower the cost? The answer that crystallised was, so that people would be more willing to use their LC facility.

In fact, the real and best question to ask was:

“How can we inspire businesses to raise more LC’s?”

On investigating this different issue it was soon realised that the cost of raising and LC, maybe $20.00 was irrelevant. Why would that be a “show stopper” for somebody wishing to raise an LC for perhaps $500k or more?

The real reason people were averse to raising LC’s was the time and effort involved. The process was just too complex and time consuming. Yet the bank in its daily work transfers multi-millions of dollars around the world with little more than the click of a mouse. So why are LC’s so complex?

The better question, the real question was:

“How can we make it easier for clients to raise LC’s?”

 With this question in mind the workshop was continued based on a Process Innovation Matrix and an answer was soon found.

There are countless examples of this, usually resulting from people being too close to the problem.

So what’s the solution?

The classic method of questioning with the “why” “why’ “why” challenge is one way of trying to “drill down” to the best question.

Another way is to have somebody quite remote from the issue present in any meeting that addresses a problem. You can be sure that a person NOT skilled in the area may well ask some very interesting and challenging questions. This always helps in drilling down to the real issue and the best question.

Most often when a group of people comes together to investigate a burning issue, a solution will be found, just make sure the best question has been asked, one that leads to the best solution.

Roger La Salle, is the creator of the “Matrix Thinking”™ technique and is a widely sought after as an international speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and business development. He is the author of four books, Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australian and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panellist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast. Matrix Thinking is now used in more than 26 countries. www.innovationtraining.com.au

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Growth Strategy – Process – Keep it simple

February 8th, 2021

                                                                                          By Roger La Salle

                                                                                                                   www.innovationtraining.com.au

                                                                                                                   www.matrixthinking.com

A short series

The next few posts we are proposing will address simple ways to look at your business and simple ways to achieve growth. But please, at all times, keep it simple.

There are only two ways

In essence there are only two ways to improve profits, it is suggested both these initiatives be employed:

  1. Process Innovation – Reducing costs whilst selling the same products
  2. Product Innovation – Exploring new products and markets.

This post will focus on Process Innovation, whether it is in manufacturing, sales, distribution or marketing.

Process Innovation

Process innovation is something every business should invest in, whether in the manufacturing or services sector. The Book, “Think Again” has the byline heading, “Invest in Process Innovation and Harvest Untouched Wealth”. How true this is because with processes there are always gains to be made that are risk free if done properly; and there is no market risk, just more margin to be gained.

5S

The most simple technique is so easy it’s hard to imagine it’s become one of the foundation stones for process improvement. Called 5S, this in essence simply asks you to tidy up, organize, put things back in the right place and ensure everything is in proper working order. The Five S’s are Sort, Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.

Kanban

Another common and easy to implement method is referred to as Kanban, a Japanese word for Visual Signal. This is a way of visualizing and ordering work flow, often using a system of cards to represent stages of work as it moves through the facility. Kanban is an efficiency optimization tool that properly used also leads to improved inventory management and “Just in Time” delivery. There is a great deal of material on this system on the internet.

ISO9000

Unlike what many people may believe, the ISO regime is not about creating quality products as such, but more about traceability of product development and manufacture. As you can imagine, this is vital in the food and chemical industry, but ISO has over years expanded to include all manner of businesses. Not to guarantee quality, but to ensure all initiatives are documented and traceable.

Six Sigma

This is a quality control system, with the Greek term Sigma (σ) being used by statisticians to signify Standard Deviation in a data set.  The Six Sigma doctrine stipulates that no more than 3 samples in a million are permitted to be outside their specified tolerance limit. This is nice in theory, but if given as unfettered power of enforcement to quality controllers, can lead to huge disruption in manufacturing processes.

Matrix Thinking

The system we also suggest is founded on the Process Innovation Matrix that employs just three “Seeds”, or primary areas of focus, these being:

Costs – What are all the costs separately identified in your manufacturing and business processes

Cycle Time – How much time is spent on each activity, leading to product and business cycle time

Quality – Defined as “Conformity to Specification” asks how quality may be effected by the push for process improvement.

The Process Innovation Matrix presents 10 ways to explore each of the Seeds. It is virtually impossible to explore each of the matrix intersections without identifying a breakthrough opportunity and thus, reaping that unharvested wealth.

However, before embarking on any process innovation we suggest it’s first necessary to measure and map the process you are exploring. Without that knowledge as a starting point it’s quite amazing how small changes made can have catastrophic unforeseen knock-on effects. In short “Map and Measure” before you start.

What’s the Message?

Process Innovation is a must for all businesses and can yield unharvested wealth. The key to this goes beyond just 5S, Kanban and others; and when combined with the Process Innovation Matrix a unique and comprehensive approach is provided that has been employed with great success in more than 20 countries.

                                                            **** ENDS ****

Roger La Salle, trains people in innovation, marketing and the new emerging art of Opportunity Capture. “Matrix Thinking”™ is now used in organizations in more than 29 countries. He is sought after as a speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and Business Development, is the author of four books, and a Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies, both in Australia and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panelist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast.

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Innovative Plastic will save lives and money

November 6th, 2020

My latest business insight, please feel free to pass this on to any colleague or publish it in any form you may wish, with due acknowledgement to the author, of course.

Regards

Life Saving Innovation from Opportunity Scanning

By Roger La Salle

Innovative permanent colour change plastic clips warn of Hot Spots

  See:  www.safeconnectaustralia.com.au

The secret to identifying possible good ideas really lays in the art of observing people’s behaviour. This is best done using the tools of “Opportunity Capture” where there are really only five things one needs to observe:

  • Predictable activities
  • Widespread Activities
  • Repetitious Activities
  • Emerging Trends in activities
  • Comparison between groups

Of course these are just the Seed of Opportunity capture with the entire opportunity scan process being embedded in a five by eight matrix that gives some 40 ways to explore the opportunity horizon. However, the above seeds alone will suffice if we just use these to observe behaviour.
 
Observation is in fact more important than asking people what they may need. Most people are unaware of the problems they encounter during their work and simply treat such difficulties as just part of the job. Imagine in days gone by a person using a bucket to draw water from a well, that’s their job. An observer may see this and go on to invent a windless, the next one a windless powered by a donkey, the next the Archimedes screw and so on. Observation was always the key to these inventions.
 
Properly used this approach makes it easy to identify opportunities, indeed more likely disruptive innovations.
 
This brings to mind a problem we observed many years ago and have now resolved and in fact brought to market. It too was based on observation but at that time the solution was a “bridge too far”. We never lost sight of the target, persisted if you like, but only acted when the time was right.
 
Fires in electrical switchboards and circuits almost always occur at terminations as joints become loose, corrode and resistance rises. Thermal runaway occurs with faults being termed a “Hot Spot” often resulting in fires.
 
For many years the approach to identity these hot spots has been all of predictable, repetitious and widespread activities with thermographers annually taking single shot thermal pictures inside electrical switchboards in an endeavour to find hot spots.

Unfortunately, as good as this may have been at the time, a thermography can never be sure when the picture is taken that the load actually causing the hot spot is even operating. It may be a water boiler that comes on early in the morning during off peak power rates, or a furnace, heat exchanger, heavy duty crane or elevator that only activates periodically. Who really knows what’s happening when the thermal image is captured?
 
Of course real time radio IOT alert devices are available, but these are simply not cost effective for use across the myriad of switchboards and wires that populate every building in the country.

It was this observation of the potentially dangerous hot spot situations and the sheer population of switchboards and wires that led to the development of a newly released technology.
 
Costing only a few cents each, permanent colour change clips that change from PURLPE to bright PINK are now available and can be attached to every cable to indicate the presence of a hot spot, no matter when it occurred. Faults are now obvious the moment you open the switchboard.
 
There are a number of takeaways from this development:
 
Switchboard monitoring fulfils many of the main criteria for an opportunity:

  • Predictable
  • Widespread
  • Repetitious

Taking this as a simple example of what an Opportunity scan can achieve, on just one level, how many other safety related events do we see only periodically monitored that could be monitored in a more thorough fashion; and thus lead to break through innovation:
 

  1. Vehicle tyre pressure
  2. “Tag testing” of trade power tools only to find the tool being damaged and dangerous the very day after is passes all tests.
  3. Smoke Detectors
  4. Life jackets in boats
  5. Electrical appliance connections
  6. Gas leaks
  7. CO monitors for domestic heaters
  8. Water leaks and dripping taps

The list is endless if we simple employ this opportunity scan approach to systemize the search for innovations.
 
                                                            **** ENDS ****
 
 Roger La Salletrains people in innovation, marketing and the new emerging art of Opportunity Capture. “Matrix Thinking”™ is now used in organizations in more than 29 countries. He is sought after as a speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and Business Development, is the author of four books, and a Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies, both in Australia and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panelist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast

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Commercialisation – Far from a Linear Process!

September 14th, 2020

                                                                                                                www.innovationtraining.com.au

www.matrixthinking.com

By Roger La Salle

Solve a problem, and hey presto – riches galore?

Though it may be one thing to teach people the art of innovation, or at least provide some tools that may assist in the creation of new ideas, turning them into money, which is generally the aim of innovation, is far more difficult than people may think.

A brilliant solution that solves a well know problem is just one tiny step in the commercialization process, a process that can be steeped in mystic and roadblocks that may seem unimaginable.

Perhaps the most often cited example is the idea of a water powered internal combustion engine. An invention supposedly purchased by the oil cartels and buried forever. Of course though this may be untrue, it is certainly a behavioral model by powerful interest groups that could be forgiven.

Teach me commercialization – really?

Some years ago we were invited to meet with a very large organisation. We attended the meeting and were flawed with the naivety of the opening statement and request. Note a request, not a question.

It went like this: “We are developing a new product, teach us commercialization”

After explaining that is was not quite as simple as a bit of training and away you go, much like passing a driving test, the meeting broke up. We never heard from them again and after many years, I have yet to see their product on the market.

It all about strategy

The old saying, “build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door” is a nonsense. Some of the most unbelievable products seem to make it whereas others fail for reasons often hard to understand.

Pet Rocks, a nonsense product sold at ridiculous prices were huge many years ago. Pre-aged and torn clothing and jeans is another example of a mind boggling success story.

Maybe these were marketed to success, but that’s a very high cost and risky strategy that failed to work for many products. The Edsel Ford car of the 1950’s, heralded for great success and one of the most widely marketed product in history, was a notable failure.

The reasons some products have failed seem truly remarkable:

  • An electrical safety product that would definitely reduce fires in commercial buildings was shunned because selling it would reduce the company’s replacement parts market
  • Frozen good labels to alert if the product had been thawed and refrozen shunned because it may expose weaknesses in the cold chain
  • The Concord, a revolution in air travel was rendered largely unprofitable because it was prevented from flying supersonic across the USA to LA. One wonders if this ban was on the back of Boeing’s failure to complete their much larger version of the Concord. In fact overflying the USA at supersonic speed was banned by the FAA soon after the US Government stopped funding BEOING development efforts. Perhaps it was seen as too expensive, too ambitious and maybe unachievable at the time. Was this a co-incidence or a plan?

What’s the message?

There are just too many variable, technical, political, business and personalities that are part of the commercialization mix with even the simplest of products.

The purpose of this blog is to remind readers that a strategic approach to commercialization is as important as the products itself, you don’t learn that from a text book.

Experience is the best teacher.

Our definition of experience is: “We have been there before and can predict the likely outcome”.

The Dictionary definition:direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge”

Remember – forearmed is forewarned.

                                                            **** ENDS ****

Roger La Salle, trains people in innovation, marketing and the new emerging art of Opportunity Capture. “Matrix Thinking”™ is now used in organizations in more than 29 countries. He is sought after as a speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and Business Development, is the author of four books, and a Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies, both in Australia and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panelist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast

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Change my title – Change the Outcome!

May 26th, 2020

By Roger La Salle

 www.innovationtraining.com.au

 www.matrixthinking.com

So, what’s my job?
It’s very interesting how a job title or the very name of a department can become a burden that can stymie its very purpose.
 
Having worked in companies, both large and small in more than 29 countries, it has become apparent that this issue is not confined to the Australian psyche alone. It’s people in general and it’s hard to lay blame.  People may be blindsided by their very title.
 
To put this into context, some years ago in speaking with the Chief Technology officer at one of Australia’s largest companies, the question was asked of him “What’s your job about?” This was a question that would seem to have an obvious answer, “To work to find the newest and best technologies for the business”.   In fact, his answer was entirely different and one that had everybody surprised. However in hindsight it was clear his insightful answer was no doubt the very reason this person had such a high level and esteemed position.
 
His answer was simple, “To develop my people”.
 
In other words, despite being the Chief Technology officer, he did not see himself as the chief purveyor of new technology or the best “propeller head”, he’d leave that to his people. Instead he saw his task as working to ensure his people were well educated, trained and equipped with all the tools that might enable them to discover the best opportunities and technologies for the business.
 
It really is impossible to argue with such an insightful response from a man with clearly a true understanding of his role.
 
What about Innovation?
Not surprisingly, many large companies have an aversion to accepting ideas from outside the business, and some for very good reason. The opportunity McDonalds presents for any and all comers to try and sell them their new gadget or gimmick hoping to avail themselves of the vast McDonalds distribution network is enormous. If McDonalds opened their doors to external ideas they would literally have to employ an entire department just processing and rejecting ideas.
 
Of course, not everybody is a McDonalds. What we have observed with many companies is that, like McDonalds, so called innovation departments and managers are indeed reluctant to explore ideas from outside the organization. These people see themselves as true innovators and to embrace externally sourced ideas, perhaps even with the open innovation model, may question their very role. After all, isn’t it the role of the so called innovation experts to be the source of innovations? This would seem to be a logical statement of their purpose.
 
If this is a mindset that can pervade the space of people with the innovation tag, we may reasonably pose the question, “Just what is the role of the innovators or innovation departments – to innovate or to simply find solutions?”
 
Further work was conducted on the subject with a startling outcome.
 
If the title of the people was changed from “innovators” to “solution seekers”, their mindset changed. With the job task now repurposed to be the wider search for new opportunities, new horizons were soon discovered. No longer did they fear their very purpose being questioned if they were seen to be looking outside the narrow confines of the title “innovators”.
 
It really is amazing how such a simple change of title can change an entire mindset and produce such vastly different outcomes.
 
What’s the message?
When we work with people and companies to help them set meaningful KPI’s the first question we always ask is “In simple terms, what is your job aimed at achieving?”
 
For example, if you operate a factory your job title may be “Production Manager”, but in fact what you are aiming to achieve in production is: “To make the most of the best for the least”. We see here the job function is not so evident in the title.
 
Aligning people with the requirements of the task, rather than their job title is what’s important. With that achieved, the secret it to then give them some tools for widespread opportunity scanning and let them loose. You may be amazed at the outcome.
                                                        **** END ****
Roger La Salletrains people in innovation, marketing and the new emerging art of Opportunity Capture. “Matrix Thinking”™ is now used in organizations in more than 29 countries. He is sought after as a speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and Business Development, is the author of four books, and a Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies, both in Australia and overseas. A serial inventor, Roger is also responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panellist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast.

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Is ISO 9000 killing your innovation?

May 2nd, 2020

                                                        By Roger La Salle

                                                                                    www.innovationtraining.com.au

Innovate or Perish?

Embracing innovation is paramount in these days of rapidly changing business landscapes and technology development.  The Covid-19 virus of course has been a catalyst for great and urgent change.  In fact some companies have seized the opportunity to create new and better ways of doing business.  One wonders why it has taken this disruption to drive such innovation.  Surely there is a lesson in this for us all?

Indeed innovation is the engine of change and in the absence of innovation even great businesses can fail, Kodak possibly being a poignant example.

The innovation message is clear but many companies that are required to abide by the stringent reporting regime of ISO9000 may in fact be operating at a disadvantage.

Is ISO9000 the answer?

ISO (International Organisation for Standardization) was founded in 1947 with the aim of bringing some international standardisation to manufacturing quality and traceability.  Many companies have embraced the teachings of the ISO regime and many suppliers demand their subcontractors be accredited. There is little doubt there are benefits, at least in the short term.

Some studies have even tried to establish a direct link between improved profits and ISO Certification, but this link in many cases is questionable.  Some argue that increased profit came before adopting ISO. Embracing ISO simply allowed companies to do business with more major companies that demanded their suppliers be so certified.  Indeed it may be argued that this is a positive feedback system guaranteed to ensure the growth of the ISO regime.

Either way, ISO these days remains firmly embedded into manufacturing worldwide.

So what’s the catch?

Studies done by Harvard Business School and others have shown that ISO9000 may come with a “sting in the tail”.

The research indicated that in the years immediately following ISO implementation business outcomes improved with reduced defects, less waste and rework, improved quality and more repeatability in terms of all processes. Customers, especially the bigger ones, loved this and were eager to see all of their suppliers embrace ISO9000.

Of course in the wake of this many others followed suit, or were pushed into accreditation by their upper tier customers. However, after several years of working with the system and order dictated by ISO, innovation of these accredited companies collapsed.  No longer was there so much free thinking and an ability to step outside the boundaries dictated by ISO.

The study revealed that within five to seven years at the most, innovation output plummeted and businesses stagnated as companies became slaves to the ISO regime.

What’s the message?

ISO9000 accreditation may be necessary and indeed essential, especially if you are a supplier to the majors, but beware its downside.

The more system and rigour you bring to your organisation, the greater the need to implement some systematic means of innovation as a cultural part of your organisations DNA

“Innovation Circles” need to be established, much along the lines of the famous Japanese Quality Circles established by Edwards Demming in Japan in the 1950’s. These Quality Circles are credited with lifting Japanese manufacturing quality from pure junk to the very best in the world.

What’s the Message?

Embrace “Innovation Circles” of course, but avoid the downside constraints of ISO reporting.

You can do this by having your “Innovation Circles”, people trained in the art of innovation working in an entirely separate business entity. An entity decoupled from the “mothership and not ISO accredited”.  New initiative, products and ideas can be can be conceived and tested in this uninhibited space, and only if successful, passed to the mothership” for commercialization.

                                                            **** END ****

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Innovation- Invention – Colaboration

May 2nd, 2020

                                                                                      By Roger La Salle

                                                                                      www.innovationtraining.com.au 

www.matrixthinking.com

Open Innovation, the term used when companies and people literally open their problems and issues to the world looking for advice and solutions is possibly the most obvious form of collaboration.

There are a lot of issues with this so called open innovation model, a prime one of course is ownership of IP. This has the potential to be a minefield if not properly understood and managed.

However, before we go too far down the path of collaboration and open innovation it may first be useful to agree on what we even mean by the word innovation. Innovation, a word that seems to have been corrupted by so many, achieving nothing more that turning the simple into the complex!

It can be argued that Innovation is the basis for all things new and better, but what inspires innovation and new ideas? More to the point, what is the link between an innovative or inventive idea and an outcome?

If we think of innovation when applied to building a business and making money, which is probably what inspires most innovators, then we need to think about the risks in business.

In most cases when an idea is being pursued and a technology development is being undertaken, whether it be an IT solution, new App, a tangible product or a new service, in essence there are only two risks that need to be considered.

The first is what we may refer to as technical risk, which means can the technologist achieve the desired outcome?

In science and technology, for the most part the technologist will deliver a solution or at least will be able to give some insight as to the risks involved. For example if we were to ask the technologist to give us anti-gravity boots they would easily be able to assign the risks associated with achieving an outcome. Of course in this case the risk would be enormous.

On the other hand if we asked a clock to be developed with hands that were in fact LED strips that were clearly visible in darkness, the answer would be that this is achievable with no technical risk.

In short, technical risk is something we can generally measure and assign a degree of risk.

However, assuming I did achieve the technical outcome with my innovation, the real questions to be asked, and the ones that too many innovators and even large companies get so wrong so often are “can I sell it?” – “will there be a market?”

Market risk is without doubt out the single biggest risk in bringing new products to market.

With this in mind we may be able to coin a definition of innovation that has the effect of reducing market risk and with that we can explore the opportunity landscape to hopefully create successful innovation.

When we look at some products from the past, Google, the i-Phone, MasterCard and Visa, Nokia, Seiko, the IBM PC and Windows, one thing these all have in common is that none we first to market. Indeed all were followers of some prior art and yet all these were great successes. In short the secret to mitigating market risk is to find a product or service that everybody is buying and simply change it in some way to add value.

Thus a definition for innovation can follow.

The common synonyms for innovation are improvement or advancement. Further, if we take it that people buy things because they see value for money, then perhaps the best definition for innovation is “Change that Adds Value”. Indeed this derivation and definition was coined in my book “Think New” many years ago. This definition has now been adopted by many organisations and innovation practitioners worldwide.

Whereas innovation may be about making changes for improvement, inventions are more about novelty. Novelty of course is an essential ingredient to a successful patent application. Having said that, there are many innovations that do contain elements of novelty and are thus also patentable. Indeed one may argue that there are few absolutely new inventions, though a few that may fall into this category might be the electric light bulb, the transistor device, the atomic bomb, RADAR and the LASER.

Given that we may have a better understanding of innovation the task now falls to the creation of innovations. How does one do that and why is collaboration so vital to successful innovation outcomes?

The secret to this comes from three elements, all essential ingredients that underpin successful innovation:

  • Observation
  • Knowhow borne of experience
  • Connections or collaborations

Observation

The key to finding opportunities for innovation lies in observation. That is, looking at the way people interact with the world, with products and services and finding the gaps and value added opportunities. Of course the idea embodied in the relatively new concept of Design Thinking asks one to look at the customer. However the fact is that from my reading of this methodology, what it fails to do is to ask how one looks at the customer. Furthermore it should also ask you to look at the customer’s customer. For example, is the retailer your customer or the purchaser and user of your product? The packaging industry seems to have worked that one out, for example in attending to supermarket shelf storage space and customer convenience in opening and storing products!

Indeed there are five things that Design Thinking seems to miss in exploring customer behaviour and the way people interact with products and the world. These are in my book “Think Next” published over a decade ago.

  • Predictable activity
  • Widespread activity
  • Repetitious activity
  • Comparative activity
  • Trends

If we explore our customer with these five, what I refer to as “seeds” of opportunity, the game gets a lot easier. It’s further made easier if you then use the eight thinking triggers I refer to as “Catalysts” to stimulate thoughts about these seeds.

This is what I refer to as “opportunity Capture”.

Knowhow borne of experience

Young children are often very good at seeing what to them appears obvious, whereas people who have been doing the same thing the same way for too long often seem prone to overlook the obvious.

The young, the uninitiated and those untarnished with tradition are often very good at seeing what may be possible, but what they lack is knowledge and experience in looking at how such opportunities may be addressed and what seems sensible and may be possible.

This is where experience and an older head is so valuable in innovation outcomes.

There is a great saying, “knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom comes from experience and experience comes with age”.

Below are some examples that may illustrate the point of why knowledge borne of experience is so important.

  • The inventor who correctly realised that the lead on a hairdresser’s hairdryer was a problem is a case in point. His solution was to have a battery operated hair dryer. What his lack of knowledge failed to identify was that even a car battery would not have had the capacity to run a hair dryer even though the idea may have had merit. As it happened the inventor did toil away at this innovation for far too long and spent quite a lot of money before acquiring the knowledge that at this point in battery development, his idea was simply impractical.
  • A building company with very large innovation teams, in fact four separate teams, which were trying to find ways to identify if scaffolding that had been put in place and certified as safe was subsequently moved by subcontractors, and perhaps rendered unsafe. They had been wrestling with the problem without a solution. When the problem was put to an older head the answer was simple, something the inexperienced innovation teams had never even heard of. Tie the scaffolding to the building with “Tamper Tape” that fractures on movement. This was a great solution, but one that the young innovators were simply too inexperienced to have even considered.
  • A fellow who proposed a warning device that alerted parents if a child had unfastened their seat belt. This was nice in theory, but what was overlooked was that many cars already have a “person sitting on the seat but seat belt unfastened” alarm. Perhaps an easier solution could be a seat belt clip latch that requires stronger hands to undo, or maybe a two handed operation action much like a safety interlock on a power tool. We refer to this as “re-question”. It asks you to explore the real issue and decide what is really the ideal or best question to be asked in addressing a problem?

In my world we refer to the type of connections from problem to solution as “connecting the dots”.

One of the great skills of clever entrepreneurs and innovators is to see the linkages between seemingly unrelated issues. This is where broadly skilled technologists and open minded thinkers come to the fore.

For example, suppose I run a lumber business, the business of cutting up trees to provide timber for the building industry. What possible connection does that have with mathematics? Perhaps none you may think, or certainly the old fashioned timber manager may have thought. But in fact linear programming, quite an old science these days, when employed in that industry can optimise the way timber is cut to provide massive additional profits. But in the closed non-collaborative model, such knowledge may never be acquired.

Similarly,

  • The technologies developed in putting a man on the moon. How could that possibly connect to the business of pots and pans? The answer – Teflon coating
  • Clocks and radio paging, is there a connection? Indeed there is. Imagine having a clock equipped with a radio paging receiver to receive time signals and thus keep perfect time and even update for Summer Time changes. Such clocks were developed in Australia long before we had cell phones with perfect time
  • The packaging business and home insulation? Of course, use bubble wrap as the ideal insulator. It’s light weight, cheap, easy to install and with fire retardant grades also available.
  • Optics and home insulation? Of course, use a reflective coating on one side of the bubble wrap to reflect radiated heat.
  • Physiotherapy and the reduction of carbon emissions?
  • The tooth brush and ceramic crystals?
  • Extruded plastic “core flute” sheeting and aluminium extrusions?

The reader can ponder the latter three, but the connection in each of these cases has spawned real businesses.

There is an endless list of these seemingly unrelated disciplines that can be connected with appropriate knowledge and collaboration between disciplines

Indeed this is why the new paradigm of “Opportunity Capture” is now emerging as the preferred approach to the more narrow discipline of traditional innovation.

There are endless examples like this which goes to show that perhaps inexperienced people may have great value in identifying possible innovation opportunities but really fail to deliver when it comes to real and viable outcomes.

Connections and Collaborations

There are few cases where one individual or even one organisation can solve all the problems and go from mind to market with an idea without assistance, or perhaps better said, collaboration.

Possibly the best example is in the auto sector. Auto makers are really just assemblers of parts made in most cases by third parties. No auto maker can make all the chassis components, the body work the paint or the rubber, the bushes, shock absorbers, alternators, windscreen wipers, the complex electronics, the air conditioners and even something as simple as the seats and the seat belts. Of course tyres, bearings even engines parts are provided by collaborating third party suppliers.

Collaboration and finding the best parties to assist you on your innovation journey is essential whether it is in the design, the engineering, the manufacture, the business planning and even the sale and marketing. Indeed even the very largest manufactures from food to cosmetics usually outsource their packaging and even advertising campaigns. Collaboration at its best.

Collaboration is definitely the name of the game when I comes to successful innovation outcomes.

       **** ends ****

Roger La Salle, trains people in innovation, marketing and the new emerging art of Opportunity Capture. “Matrix Thinking”™ is now used in organizations in more than 29 countries. He is sought after as a speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and Business Development, is the author of four books, and a Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies, both in Australia and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panelist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast

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