Monday, July 30, 2012

A Simple Framework for Innovation Leadership

If you are looking for a simple and effective framework that you can adapt for organizational innovation and for coaching your innovation leaders, then you will find help here.

You may be familiar with the framework for leadership that was developed at MIT over a four-year period by Professors Deborah Ancona, Tom Malone, and Wanda Orlikowski, with Peter Senge, and tested in diverse real world settings, the FCF is a powerful tool for understanding and integrating the four critical components of leadership. The FCF, as described in research on Leadership in the Age of Uncertainty, defines these components as follows (

  • Sensemaking: making sense of the world around us, coming to understand the context in which we are operating.
  • Relating: developing key relationships within and across organizations.
  • Visioning: creating a compelling picture of the future.
  • Inventing: designing new ways of working together to realize the vision
I looked at this framework from the Innovation angle and to my pleasant surprise, all the four terms - sensemaking, relating, visioning and inventing - precisely described the critical components of Systematic Innovation. Here I describe how I adapted this highly successful framework for Innovation. I used this to coach innovation leaders in my organization and found it very effective.

  • Sensemaking: this is all about understanding the innovation ecosystem and ensuring that the innovations are spread across the entire ecosystem (refer to my earlier blog post on how successful Innovators focus on the Ecosystem -
  • Relating: I would like to interpret this a little differently (a) Innovators analyze relations and understand inter-dependencies (b) Innovators create new connections and form relations where none existed before.r
    • I use the "Adapt" trigger to borrow ideas from other domains and relate them to the problem that I am trying to solve - If I am designing an innovative school, I ask myself what I can borrow and adapt from a hospital or bank or restaurant and introduce in a school to make it more effective.
    • Here is something that coudl help you in forging new relations -
      6 Innovation Triggers
      The Innovation Genome Project is a grand effort to look at historical innovations and identify best-practices and techniques that could help us to create innovative ideas. Read more about it at Innovation Excellence - - six powerful questions that could trigger innovative thinking:
      1. What could we look at in a new way?
      2. What could we use in a new way, or for the first time?
      3. What could we move into a new context, either in time or in space?
      4. What could we connect in a new way, or for the first time?
      5. What could we change, in terms of design or performance?
      6. What could we create that is truly new?
  • Visioning: Most Innovators succeed by visioning the innovative solution well before inventing it - some of them get inspired by the imagination of others and proceed to invent those visions - H.G Wells inspired Leo Szilard to invent artificial atomic energy and Jules Verne inspired Simon Lake to invent the Submarine. 
  • Inventing: This is the heart of Innovation. After understanding the ecosystem, creating new connections and visualizing the ideal solution, it is time to solve the problem and come up with an inventive solution. Innovator's ability to smartly design and conduct experiments that prove his innovative concept is very critical. This skill can drastic bring down the time for innovation and helps the decision maker to prioritize the most promising ideas.
Key Takeaways
  • Make Sense of the Ecosystem 
  • Connect and form new relations 
  • Create a Vision of the Ideal Solution 
  • Develop an Inventive solution for the problem and grow it into Innovation.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Art & Science of Teaching Innovation

I am currently teaching a course on Technology and Innovation Management at the Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Bangalore. It is a 2-credit elective course and the class comprises of both Marketing and Finance students (about 60 students). This is the third consecutive year that I am teaching this course - i make it interesting to myself  by preparing fresh charts, case-studies and projects every time. It is a very refreshing experience to design fresh and teach this course every year. I aim to learn from my class as much as I teach. To ensure effective learning, I spend about 25% time to introduce the concepts - the rest 75% time is interactive discussions, hand-on exercises, focused ideation sessions and problem solving workshops. I have taught the first 8 sessions out of a total of 24 sessions as of today.

In the first two sessions, we focused on defining innovation management, breaking the Myths and discussing the key issues that make managing innovation difficult.

In the third and fourth sessions, we looked at Innovation skills - (a) skills needed for creating insightful ideas, (b) skills for creating value to customers from these ideas and (c) skills for taking the new ideas safely to the Market. We looked at the relative role of Creativity, Knowledge and Motivation in enabling innovation. We looked at Organization innovation and leadership traits of an innovation leader (Teresa Amabile). I introduced my Innovation Flow framework at this stage - Focus, Leap & Orient, What's Next - for systematic innovation.

In the fifth and sixth sessions, we looked at creating and executing a strategy for innovation. We looked at the disruptive innovations (Christensen) and Strategy - Vijay Govindarajan's Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators etc. We studied the Forget, Learn and Borrow methodology proposed by Vijay.

In the seventh and eighth sessions, we looked at managing the development of innovative new products - focused on customer centered innovation - understanding the customers' pain points, creating ideas for innovative new products  Buyer-Utility Map (Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne, HBR), Jobs analysis (Tony Ulwick, HBR), Use of divergent thinking tools like Scammper, Customer Innovation Map, Innovation Portfolio management - core, adjacent & transformational innovations (Bansi Nagji & Geoff Tuff, HBR) etc 

I intend to share my experience in teaching this course through regular blog posts. If any of you is also teaching a course on innovation, i would encourage you to share your thoughts. I will also be happy to share my teaching material and help you with designing such a course. The images show the books on my desk - these are the one that I am using for teaching Innovation Management. These two piles of books do not include the ones that I use for teaching Technology Management.

I am passionate about teaching innovation management and mentoring innovators to shape their ideas into impactfull innovations. I teach, therefore I am.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Parallels between Panini and Altshuller

There are good parallels between how Panini simplified and made Sanskrit grammar accessible to all and how Altshuller simplified and made the collective wisdom of Inventive knowledge accessible to all. Panini and Altshuller were not contemporaries, they were separated by at least 25 centuries. But their zeal and perseverance to reduce complex stuff into a handful of powerful principles is very much comparable. Their himalayan effort connected the invisible dots and brought out patterns that were submerged in a vast amount of unstructured data. 

Panini is a great sanskrit grammarian and logician (~ 4th century BC). He was a pioneer in Linguistics and his works were path breaking in both descriptive and generative linguistics. He was a forerunner of modern formal language widely used in modern computer languages. Source - 

Genrich Altshuller, the originator of TRIZ, was working in the patent department of the Soviet navy (in the late 1940s). His primary responsibility was to assist inventors in filing patents, but because he was himself a gifted inventor (he received his first patent at the age of 14), he was often asked for help in solving problems encountered during the innovation process. He looked for systematic methods to help people solve creative problems. While there are no tools that allow us inside the human mind to study the process of innovation, the results of this process can be easily observed by studying the inventions themselves, or the patent literature associated with them. Realizing that an innovation represents a fundamental change to a technological system -- and is therefore subject to analysis -- Altshuller turned his attention to the patent fund, screening over 200,000 patents from all over the world.  He identified 40,000 patents that constituted "inventive" achievements, and began a rigorous analysis of these. The results of his efforts formed the theoretical basis of TRIZ.  Source -

They were both  frustrated by the complexity of the large amount of unstructured information. Pannini found it impossible to learn sanskrit grammar in the unstructured way that it was taught to him. He was confident that the problem was not with him but with the lack of structure. Altshuller tried to elicit patterns of inventing by studying a large collection of patents across many domains.

They decided to simplify stuff by bringing structure to the data. Pannini meditated upon the 14 shiva sutras  and reduced the vast data to a manageable number of guiding rules. He derived a highly-structured system of sanskrit grammar by using these simplified rules. Panini's grammar gained acceptance instantly because of its simplicity and the old grammar vanished overnight. Altshuller filtered the large collection of patents (200,000) into a smaller collection of inventive patents (40000). He studied these inventive patents deeply and brought out clear trends in inventions - common principles that Inventors have successfully used across different domains to solve technical problems.

The crowning achievement of both Panini and Altshuller is the creation of a subset of powerful principles. Panini simplified sanskrit grammar into clearly defined rules and principles in his book Ashtadhyayi (~ 4000 aphorisms in 8 chapters). Altshuller distilled all the inventive knowledge into 40 Inventive principles (that form the basis of TRIZ - Theoy of Inventive Problem Solving). 

The 40 TRIZ Inventive principles with examples - 

Special thanks to Dr Shantha for telling me in a very interesting way how Panini created Sanskrit - but for her, I couldn't have drawn this parallel.

Disruptive Innovations need / don't need Experts - You are right either way

My innovation education started many years back when I read that the three essential components of Innovation are Expertise, Creativity and Motivation (I guess it was in an HBR article by Teresa Amabile). This thought has been reiterated by other innovation experts over the years. However, while practising innovation, I had a major challenge in balancing expertise and creativity. In areas where i had significant expertise, I was unable to entertain creative ideas (my left brain rushed to filter out those early stage ideas). In areas where I had no expertise, I could boldly think and come up with many creative ideas - but i had limited success in taking the ideas forward as I had limited domain knowledge and expertise. 

If you ask, which is the most important among the three, then you get mixed response. This is primarily because the question is incomplete if you do not specify the context. For instance, between incremental and radical innovation, the role played by these three factors are significantly different. Today, i brought this up as an open ended question in the Innovation Management class that i teach at Symbiosis. I gave each student ten points and asked them to distribute between the three - i got cumulative scores of 70 for knowledge and 90 each for creativity and motivation. 

Leading Question

In the context of creating disruptive innovations, what role does expertise play ? Do we need Experts ? When do we need them ? How should we use them ?

I came across two apparently opposing views from the experts - Navin Jain (Founder, World Innovation Institute) and Max Marmer (Founder, Startup Genome). In a sense, they both are right. I have made an attempt to analyse and place these two views in the right perspective.

View # 1. Experts will play no role 

"while experts will have a part to play where incremental evolution is needed,  non-expert individuals will drive disruptive innovation" (Navin Jain).

Navin Jain believes that people who will come up with creative solutions to solve the world’s biggest problems —  ecological devastation, global warming, the global debt crisis and distribution of dwindling natural resources, to name a few — will NOT be experts in their fields. The real disruptors will be those individuals who are not steeped in one industry of choice, with those coveted 10,000 hours of experience (Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell), but instead, individuals who approach challenges with a clean lens, bringing together diverse experiences, knowledge and opportunities. And while experts will have a part to play in solving today’s looming crises where incremental evolution is needed,  he believes that non-expert individuals will drive disruptive innovation. 

I could see where Navin is coming from as I have helplessly watched experts disrupting the evolution of disruptive ideas in the growth ideation sessions that I facilitated. It took me a while to handle these disruptive forces in my ideation sessions. I knew that the experts' intentions were good and all that I had to do was to restructure my sessions and delay the participation of experts.

View # 2. Experts will play a key role

"Without a domain expert, attempts at disruption are unimaginative and incremental at best" (Max Marmer)

Excerpt from Max Mermer's recent HBR Blog post:

" There appear to be a declining number of entrepreneurs pursuing big ideas. Max analyzes who is to blame for the lack of big, transformational ideas. In the past, the magic formula for creating billion dollar companies was to bring two engineers or an engineer and a businessman. Combine a lone technical genius with a mesmerizing sales guy and you had the DNA for a billion dollar technology company. But times change. In the last seven years it became clear that a technical genius and a mesmerizing sales guy weren't enough. A new competency started to appear in the DNA of this generations successful founding teams: Design. Design at its best is more than just a beautiful interface, it synthesizes complex technology with a deep understanding of end users' motivations and abilities into a unified, intuitive product experience. 

The problem is that creativity works by taking what we know and applying it to something new; and what engineers understand is new enabling technology trends like cloud, mobile, social and big data. This worked great when the problems teams were trying to solve were fundamentally technology problems. But now much of the transformational potential of the "pure information technology" possibility space has been exhausted to the point of terminal differentiation. The only way out of this innovation gridlock is an expansion in founding team diversity. I believe the missing piece from the DNA in the founding teams of transformational companies is now the domain expert, who has deep insight into the industry they are trying to disrupt. Without a domain expert, attempts at disruption are unimaginative and incremental at best.

 The number of teams working on transformational ideas in Silicon Valley seems to be declining and homogeneity of founding teams is one of biggest reasons why. We started with the dynamic duo of the businessman and the engineer. Recently we added the designer. Now if want to continue to create products that scale into billion dollar companies, create thousands of jobs and transform society, we need to add domain experts to the founding DNA of Technology Companies. "

I tend to agree with Max too. There is this nagging feeling at the back of my mind that one cannot underplay the importance of domain knowledge. Even if I manage with a larger dose of creativity in the short-term, the need for domain knowledge will come back with a vengeance in the long-term. As i evolve the idea, there will come a stage where I can't make further progress without domain knowledge. I agree that Knowledge can be acquired quickly, but expertise - teh ability to apply that knowledge - will take lot more time and effort.

My Takeaway

Now, which view is correct - do we need experts or not ? - again this is an incomplete question. We are better of by asking when do we need the expert and when we don't need.

If we look at the three phases of innovation - idea generation, conversion and diffusion - we can do away with the experts during the early stages (divergent thinking stage) of idea generation. But we need to bring them back in order to converge on the most promising ideas. From then onwards, the experts play a significant role through idea conversion and diffusion phases. When an expert is present during the divergent thinking brainstorming phase, he cannot control himself from harshly criticising the ideas and as a result many ideas get killed mercilessly. The Expert is a pain only during the divergent thinking phase but after that his presence is indispensable.

A good idea is not only a creative thought, it should lead to an useful insight. The innovator should be able to articulate how to create value to the customer using the insight. Further, the innovator should be able to at least qualitatively prove that his idea works  (a quick and dirty proof of concept). We would definitely need the Expert's help to translate the creative thought into insight, articulate value and demonstrate proof.

Scott Belsky (Founder of Behance and Author of Making Ideas Happen) says that Idea is 1% effort while making the idea happen is 99% effort. The Expert will have a significant role to play in making the ideas happen (the 99% effort) even in the context of disruptive information. I am not an "Expert"  and I have no agenda in saying that Experts are important. I believe that success in innovation (even disruptive innovation) requires a balanced dosage of Creativity and Expertise at different stages of the idea's evolution.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

IP Strategy for Innovative New Products - First Visualize and then Realize

If you wish to launch an innovative new product in emerging markets, then you should be reading this. Recently I was invited to speak on "Navigating in Crowded IP Waters" to an audience of practicing intellectual property (IP) professionals at the FICPI World Conference at Melbourne. I wish to share with you some tips on how you can create IP and launch your innovative new product in crowded waters. My simple approach has only two steps - Visualize and Realize - if you do these two steps right then you have mitigated the biggest risk around your new product.

The biggest challenge is about navigating in crowded IP waters. Your competitive advantage arises from the innovation that enables your new product.  How do you create an entry barrier to your competition - how do you discourage them from designing around your innovation ? The Intellectual property around the innovative features in your new product need to adequately protected - one way to take care of this is by building a strong and comprehensive patent portfolio. 

In most cases, the IP space is crowded with broad patents from competitors who are keen to commercialize their technology and also from Universities that don't intend to commercialize the technology . I have faced this challenge while launching nanomaterials based products in India. I had looked at application of Nano metal oxides as UV blockers and also as heavy metal adsorbent in water purification. In both these cases, I found the IP space very crowded and had a very challenging time in creating the right patenting strategy and enabling timely launch of the new product.  

How do you get a foothold in such crowded IP spaces and how do you navigate through this space? We need to first visualize what IP we need to protect the innovative new product and then we should realize that IP.

Visualizing the IP that we need to protect the innovative new product involves first understanding the customer need, figuring out the product differentiation that will be valued by the customers and then translating that knowledge into the technology and IP drivers. Here, I  demonstrate the flow of information for a hypothetical new product.

Now, having visualized the IP we need to proceed and take steps to realize the IP. We need to create a wishlist first, then asses the opportunity (what is the ease of creating this IP - high, medium, low) and then create the strategy to make it happen. This will help us build a strong patent portfolio in a systematic manner.

Thus the approach that I recommend for successfully navigating in crowded IP waters and launching your innovative new product is very simple - Visualize IP and Realize IP.

Photo - I am standing by the Yarra River (it runs through the heart of Melbourne). The Crown Towers building that you see in the background was the venue of the FICPI Conference. 

Thanks - I wish to thank Leo Jessen from The Netherlands (the Chair for my session) and Ed White from UK (my co-speaker from Reuters) for sharing their insights on this topic at the FICPI dias. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What Innovation Leaders can learn from Stephen Covey

A tribute to Stephen Covey

Most of us know Steven Covey as the author of the highly acclaimed “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I wish to draw your attention to the book that he wrote on  the 8th Habit which is all about “finding your voice” and helping others find theirs. 

In this context “voice” is the unique personal significance that each person offers and can bring to bear at work. To find your voice, you must connect with mind, body, heart and spirit. He defines leadership as the ability to help others understand their own true worth and potential so that they see it in themselves and live accordingly. 

This book resonated with me because I believe as Innovation leaders we have the potential to make an enormous difference in the lives of the people we work with. The "voice" that we need to find is creativity and innovation. We need to find our Innovation potential and helps others to find it. 
  • Each person has creativity latent in him. It is the duty of the Innovation leader to kindle that latent potential and create opportunities for employees to express their creativity. 
  • The Innovation leader has to help the person to grow his creative idea into an innovation that the larger organization would care for. 
  • It is also the Innovation leader's responsibility to guide the Organization in creating a culture of innovation - an atmosphere where the employees feel comfortable about expressing their creativity.

Most of the time, an innovation leader's role is like that of a catalyst that accelerates a reaction without directly participating in it - he / she facilitates innovations - helps others to grow their ideas into innovations - helps others to succeed.

Thanks Steve for teaching us the 8th Habit.