Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Yes and" & "Yes if" - Disney Creative Thinking Tools

I did a second Ideation session at Barcamp06 on popular demand from the Techies. They found the "Reverse your Assumptions" session very cool and they wanted to learn more. I chose two demonstrate the power of two very simple tools - "Yes and" & "Yes if". I had learnt it from two Disney Imagineers in a Disney Creativity Workshop. These are great tools for triggering creative thinking in a group. I used it recently at Xchanging (Bangalore) with Tansen's Six Sigma team and it was great fun.

"Yes and" - A problem is posed - the first person shares his Idea - a second person says yes and .... - i.e he accepts the first idea and adds a little more to it - it is a small increment that strengthens the idea further. The second person's idea is not too different but it builds up on the first Idea. By the time idea goes through one round it becomes real strong. This tool encourages you to build up on the previous idea, In the absence of this tool, each person tends to give a new idea in a different direction. Stengthening of ideas does not happen naturally.

Lets us go for a movie - yes and we will eat out - yes and desserts at baskin Robbins - yes and we will invite Shreya too - yes and we will pick her up from work - yes and ...

"Yes if" - How do you respond to an Idea that sounds impractical - do you reject the Idea ?
you could tell that

Shankar's Idea is good ... yes if we are given 1 yr time to market and $1M budget - yes if the lab is ready by Jan - yes if the equipment can be run round the clock - yes if we can hire atleast two technicians....

This tool makes you think about the conditions under which an idea makes sense. It moves you away from a judgemental thinking mode and forces you to think about implementation aspects.

Use "Yes and" and "Yes if" when you want to trigger creative thinking in a group.

Reverse your Assumptions - My Ideation session at Barcamp06

I conducted two ideation sessions at the Barcamp organized by PuneTech. The crowd was very enthusiastic and creative - it was not only my first Barcamp but also the first time that I did Ideation sessions with such a big crowd. I chose to demonstrate two powerful creative thinking tools.

The first session: I demonstrated the application of the tool "Reverse your Assumptions" - the Techies found this tool very cool. I had learnt this tool from the book "The Medici Effect" and got good ideas every time i used it.

First we did some generic examples like Restaurant, School etc. Then we took up the problem of improving the traffic situation in Pune - came up with a big bunch of reasonably out of the box ideas in just 30 minutes.

How - The tool works like this. Take the concept of School. List down the most basic assumptions about a school - like a school needs taechers, students, classroom, books, exams etc. Then reverse each of these assumptions - a school without a teacher, no exams, no books, no students etc. Brainstorm around these reversed assumptions and list teh ideas, Finally relate the ideas to a convention school - we end up with innovative ideas to run a school.

Why - The tool readily gives out of the box ideas because when you reverse the assumption, you are able to break free from your present paradigms. You are able to escape your psychologial inertia and think fresh.

Reverse your assumptions to break the psychological inertia.

Friday, November 20, 2009

BarCamp06 - by Pune Tech - an innovative & democratic hi- tech mela

This was my first Barcamp.

A Barcamp is a “democratic” conference. It is not a normal / traditional conference. A normal / traditional conference is usually put together by a committee of professors, or industry veterans, and the speakers are selected by the committee and invited to speak. Many of the speakers are “forced” upon the conference by the sponsors, and they end up droning about how cool their product is. The other talks tend to be boring “lectures” or “speeches” that you fall asleep in. Who can attend is also constrained by money (conferences fees are high), or by other means (only members may attend). Anybody who’s been to a traditional conference will tell you that the tea-breaks and the corridor-conversations are the most interesting and important part of a conference.

Think of a barcamp as an entire conference that consists only of tea-breaks and corridor-conversations. Well, it’s a little more structured than that – but not much … A barcamp is not a conference – it is an unconference. Anybody can attend a barcamp. Anybody can speak on any topic that they are passionate about. A whiteboard is put up in the morning with the available rooms and timeslots. People can write down their name and the title of their talk in any available slot. Based on this, the others can decide which talks they want to attend. That’s it. Repeat all day.

Democracy.You’ll wonder, if anybody can speak, how do we ensure quality of speakers and presentations? By the “law of two feet“. The audience in a Barcamp are encouraged to use their two feet and walk away from a talk if it turns out to be boring. People are encouraged to find and create subgroups interested in specific topics, find a room or a corridor, and start discussing – and they often do.This ensures that everybody finds something interesting, and often something unexpected at a Barcamp.

Maybe you might find the 15-year-old kid who knows more about Search-Engine-Optimization than all the “industry veterans” you’ve met. Maybe you’ll go there to learn new technology and instead find some really interesting NGOor other social work organization and join that. Maybe you’ll just land up there, not knowing what to expect, and end up finding not just your first job, but a great career. Maybe you have an idea for a company, but don’t know how to implement it, and you’ll find someone at Barcamp who’s willing to handle the technology for you.I’m not just making all of that up. Each one of the sentences in the previous paragraph that started with “Maybe” is actually a real-life story that I saw that happen during the Barcamp06.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Innovation Flow at NCL

I delivered an Innovation talk to scientists at the National Chemicals Laboratory, Pune on 27 August '09. NCL is a premier lab run by Council for Scientific and Industrial research, Government of India. I spoke on Innovation flow - the science of flowing Ideas and Inventions into Technology Innovations.

You will find the Presentation Material "Innovation Flow" at SlideShare:

I have posted the presentation in two parts

Alternatively, you can find this and a few more of my presentations at my LinkedIn page:

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Innovator's advice for Innovators - what is the smart thing to do when the going gets tough?

Art & Innovation seems to go together. Art Fry (3M) of PostIt fame has become a legend in Innovation circles. Here is some news about Art Fong, an innovator from HP. Art Fong has a piece of advice for Innovators - I am sure you would like it.

Phil (McKinney of Killer Innovation) recently interviewed Art Fong, who was personally recruited by Bill Hewlett to Hewlett-Packard in 1946.

About Art Fong:
Prior to joining the HP team, Art had many groundbreaking achievements in his career. He was a part of the development of the first AM/FM radio and radar technology, which became an integral part of the World War II efforts against the Axis. During his time at HP, Art made major engineering contributions to the company, with innovations such as impedance-measuring instruments, a line of signal generators, and the first calibrated microwave spectrum analyzer. At one point, his innovations generated a staggering 30 percent of HP’s revenue.

Art Fong's advice for fellow innovators and engineers:

.. when the going gets tough, go backpacking, fishing, skiing, so forth. Relax. It gives you a break when your problems are all mixed up in your cranium. I found sudden answers while looking at the clouds, a falling star, or a fawn. Thinking of problems while in a new environment often leads to a new path to the solution.

I believe in his advice. Many great Inventors and Innovators have expressed simillar views.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How to flow Ideas and Inventions into Innovation

Most of us make our daily living by generating creative ideas, solving tough technical problems and translating our ideas into inventions. Now what would give us greater satisfaction? – Innovation, i.e taking our insightful ideas and breakthrough inventions successfully to the market. How good are we at Innovation? – the present statistics are quite discouraging - typically, for every hundred good ideas, ten may lead to breakthrough inventions and one to an innovative product that meets a critical need of the customer. To accelerate the Innovation process and to maximize the Return on Innovation, we need a systematic Innovation process that will (a) focus and structure our ideation efforts (b) align our ideas to solve a critical need and ensure that the Customer sees added value and most importantly (c) give us the satisfaction of seeing our idea through the end of the Innovation Funnel.

As an inventor, I have often wondered how to bridge the gap between invention and innovation. When I got into managing technology programs, I struggled to defend and nurture those promising out-of-the box ideas that tend to get killed in conventional stage-gate processes. To create an effective Innovation strategy, I wondered how I can balance the capabilities of emerging technologies and the needs of emerging markets. I studied many Innovation processes, creativity tools, consulted with Innovation experts, researched many Innovative organizations (Google, 3M, Apple, Toyota, P & G etc) and also learnt from facilitating Innovation in R&D organizations (GE, Tata and Dow). I found that the secret to successful innovation lies in systematically growing the innovation potential of ideas.

I evolved my Innovation approach based on TRIZ – Theory of Inventive Problem Solving - to address primary concerns like:
• How do we make sure that we are solving the right Problem?
• How to balance Imagination Vs Knowledge and come up with creative, yet technically feasible, solutions?
• How to learn from creative ideas and smart solutions that have solved similar problems in other domains? How to integrate this knowledge into our solution?
• If our technical expertise / domain knowledge alone is not sufficient for Innovative Problem Solving – then what other new skills do we need to learn?
• Is there a systematic approach to sail the Idea through various barriers and translate it in to an innovative product?

We will talk about each one of these themes in the days ahead.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Innovation Workshop at ARAI, Pune

I conducted a one-day workshop for engineers and scientists at the Automotive Research association of India, Pune last week.

You will find the Presentation Material "Innovation Flow" at my LinkedIn page:


My friend Prashant (PhD Mech Eng from IIT Bombay, > 10 Yrs Industrial excperience and expert on Automotive technology) facilitated this session. I used the first half of the day teaching tools to define and analyze the Problem. We used Five-Whys for root-cause analysis, Nine windows to capture the breadth of the problem and TRIZ Function Mapping to identify the key interactions between various elements. We listed about 15 precisely defined technical problem statements at the end of this exercise.

We had a grand lunch at the ARAI Caffetaria and had a lively discussion with the participants over lunch. The ARAI folks were very enthusiastic about learning Innovation tools and they were all deep domain experts.


In the noon session, we formulated TRIZ technical contradiction, used the Contradiction Matrix and discussed the Inventive Principles. The session started at 9.30am and went on till 5.30 pm. The session was kept very interactive and the ARAI team participated enthusiastically in the various problem solving exercises. Despite the grand lunch, nobody looked sleepy during the post-lunch session :).


We agreed to have a follow up session next on focused brainstorming of Ideas using TRIZ Triggers and Evaluation of Ideas using Six Hats method.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ideality directs Innovation Flow

The Idea of using Ideality concept to direct the Innovation Flow was popularized by TRIZ. IFR - Ideal Final Result - is a central concept of TRIZ. This is about visualizing what is the ideal situation to be in - what does it look like - what happens when this Ideal situation is realized. This visualization is practised without being constrained by what is possible (today) & what is not. IFR is about escaping from current constraints and thinking about an ideal situation. IFR is a powerful concept that can be used well beyond technical problem solving.

My Mantra for Innovative Problem Solving is Focus - Escape - Move. Focus on all the zones and dimensions of the problem - i use tool slike 9 Windows and 5 Whys. The next stage is to escape from the present Paradigms - i use TRIZ tools Function Maps and Ideal Final Result here. The third stage is Move where i use the TRIZ Contradiction matrix and Inventive Principles. We will have more than one innovative solution after these three steps. Further i use the TRIZ evolution potential analysis to figure out what next.

The technology evolution S-curves are driven by improving Ideality. Ideality is defined as the ratio of the functional benefits to the sum of cost and harms for a given technology. One can evolve the technology by developing solutions that offer more benefits, less cost or less disadvantages. All these are in the positive direction of technology evolution. TRIZ tools help us with triggers to move from one S-curve to another. We will look at some interesting examples this week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When does Innovation flow ?

I believe there will be a day when Innovation flows. I visualise ideas flowing over many barriers and finally merging into the ocean of Innovation. The shape of the idea gets continously modified as it flows.

I used to talk about bridging the gap between Idea and Innovation. On deeper meditation, i realised it is not two distinct concepts that we need to bridge. It is one continuous concept.

Our Mind is structured to flow ideas into innovation in a continuous way. If we differentiate between the two & try to transform idea into innovation through a structured effort, then we are going against the flow of our Mind.

Do we know when the logical left or the creative right takes control of our thinking process - it happens in a very subtle way - we will be better off if we train these two guys to work synergestically.