Posts Tagged ‘Manufacturing’

Innovation , Invention and Collaboration

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Innovation – Invention – Collaboration
By Roger La Salle

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

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.
• 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.

Possible 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.
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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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Innovation Statement – there is another way!

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Where are we headed?
By Roger La Salle

I’ll set the scene by citing the words of two people, words uttered within the past few months. If these are the commonly held views of our economic intellectuals, I really do fear for our future.

1. Chief Economist of one of our very biggest banks. As I understand it, formerly employed as a bureaucrat in the Department of Treasury and Finance in Canberra, so no doubt well versed in economics.

“The notion that we need to make things in the country to prosper is a complete myth.”

When challenged on this point, the answer given by the speaker was to the effect that the service providers simply provide other services to service providers and the money circulates and when they need to they will buy computers and technology products or manufactured goods. No mention was made of just where these technology products come from and that the purchase of a technology product by a service provider means money exiting this Ponzi scheme circular service loop and going off -shore

2 A senior economics writer for one of our bigger newspapers, in conversation.

Words to the effect of:

It’s really very simply. The accountant pays the consultant who pays the internet company who pays the lawyer who pays the school teacher who pays the doctor who pays the cleaner who pays the hairdresser and so on. Money circulates around the loop and everybody gets paid. It’s simply a 30 day cycle.

Ignorant I may be!
With interest rates at an all-time low, unemployment higher than it’s been for many years, exports of minerals tanking, the auto industry in exit mode, manufacturing in most sectors almost obliterated and our education OECD ranking in decline, despite our “Building the Education Revolution” why should we be concerned. The economists (not one of whom I think predicted the GFC even five minutes before it happened) tell us all is OK. Our Debt to GDP ratio is low compared with all the basket case economies, so “don’t worry, be happy”.

What value are services?
Wealth is created when things are created, including physical products, agricultural products, mining, music, dance, literature and the like.

As for services, in essence there are possibly just two services that actually create wealth for Australia, these being the export of education and inbound tourism. The rest simply circulate the wealth of people trading tangibles, which of course would include products of the arts such as music, dance, literature, film and art etc.

Trucking and transport is a service, but it creates no wealth in itself, nor indeed would it even exist if somebody else was not creating something that needed to be transported. Transport is just a service that in essence “clips the ticket” of the creators.

Of course many services are government funded, police, hospitals, education to a large extent, the military and so on. Where does the money come from to fund these?

Further, in the case of many services that are not government funded, such as accounting, book keeping, call centres operated by the banks and Telco’s and even web and industrial design, these too, like our manufacturing are now being exported to low labour cost countries.

Thus, not only is our manufacturing in decline and being exported, so too are many of our services.

A paradigm shift is needed
If Australia does not find a new way of stimulating and encouraging investment in technology and manufacturing, I see no escape from disaster other than a recovery in commodity pricing, increased agricultural exports, more inbound tourism or educational exports.

Failing the above, all of which as a technologist I find unpalatable, we need to find a way to rekindle our technology and manufacturing sectors. But then again, even if we do develop some great new ideas, why make anything in Australia when if you choose a low cost labour market such as China, your profits will be far greater.

There can be little doubt that, like Japan, as China and India move up the Quality Curve more and more of our manufacturing will relocate.

What now?
A paradigm shift in thinking is needed, no longer can we tinker at the edges, and as one of our past politicians once said of Government razor gangs, “at the end of the day, all we really do is simply tinker with the tea lady.”

In the technology sector, no longer is this acceptable.

There is sincere endeavour!
Nobody would doubt that governments of all persuasions in any developed country make serious attempts to assist researchers, inventors, innovators, technologists and entrepreneurs. There is a myriad of assistance programs, too many to mention, and always new ones being rolled out seeking yet new ways to assist. But alas, if you look at most indexes of Australia’s innovation ranking you will find us near the top OF THE BOTTOM.

The intentions are good. Unfortunately the outcomes seem none too impressive, especially considering the sums of money used to subsidise industry, research and innovation.

Innovation, the act of changing something to add value, is what it’s all about and there is no end to the ways one can innovate. Having said that, if one retains a fixed mindset when attempting innovation, the constraints imposed serve to limit the ability to really think “outside the box”.

The overriding mind-set within government seems to be about subsidies. Provide grants and tax incentives for people to spend more on innovation in the hope, and it is little more than hope or blind faith, that this will inspire successful outcomes. Maybe it will, but at what cost? What is the return on this investment and does it really inspire innovation or simply fund a vast number of consultants all taking a good sniff of any funds doled out?

Grants for research and innovation are provided to selected applicants, often those that have the right idea at the right time and better still, the right story or perhaps “pitch”.

Despite the experts that governments employ to assist in selecting grant funding recipients, this really is hit and miss. It’s trying to pick winners from a vast field of triers all heralding their innovation or research as that most worthy of funding.

How often do they get it right, or perhaps a better question may be, what is the return on this funding investment? I am not privy to such a figure and wonder if any reader may know?

However, I would venture to say, the ROI would be vastly in the negative, despite the sincere endeavours of our bureaucrats.

Invert the model
Inversion, or thinking of things the other way round, is one way of looking to inspire new paradigm thinking.

Think for a moment what would happen if, instead of the vast subsidy spending that Governments provide (many billions of dollars per year to be sure), we removed all such funding (or significantly curtailed it as total removal may destroy pure research) and instead rewarded successful innovation endeavours.

Imagine the inflow of entrepreneurial funds from both local and overseas investors if we were to provide a tax holiday of perhaps five years on income earned from newly commercialised innovations. Imagine too the income for government from people employed in these new industries paying tax on their wages.

I suggest such a sea change in innovation strategy would have a vastly positive and lasting effect and largely remove wasted government investment in innovation.

Of course the naysayers may say this is too hard to audit, but let me suggest counting revenue on widgets sold would be a lot less prone to error, or even exploitation than the present system. A system where non expert public servants are expected to conduct reviews of complex projects in short order so as to fulfil audit requirements. This is an almost impossible task, even for an expert in the field.

Do the Sums?
Unfortunately, I simply do not have the time nor resources to do the sums, but if ever there may be a body of research worth doing it may be in looking at the impact of such a policy. A policy that I believe would save the government vast amounts of money and at the same time stimulate investment and create industries and new employment.

Is this a silly or entirely unreasonable proposal?

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Roger La Salle, is the creator of the “Matrix Thinking”™ technique and is 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 panelist 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 28 countries and licensed to Deloitte for their Innovation Academy.

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