Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Designing Innovation Workshops for Students - (b) !nnovation Flow 2-dimensional framework


In the previous blog post we discussed the problem - the widening gap between the University training and the Industry's needs. The University and the Industry need to partner and train the students / fresh hires in systematic innovation. We have designed a solution in the form of an innovation training  using !nnovation flow technique and a two dimensional framework. The first dimension is the effectiveness of teaching that spans across – fundamental concepts, practical application, and project management. The second dimension is customization of the content for people playing different roles in the Organization – Individual contributor, Team Leader, Program Manager, Business / Technology Leader. We will first discuss the three modes of teaching innovation – these are Conceptual, Practical and project management.

A.              Effective ways of teaching Innovation

It is important to include “Tell”, “Show” and “Involve” features in Innovation training. Innovation training has to be imparted in all three modes (a) Concepts – here the emphasis is on introducing the fundamentals of innovation and creativity (b) Practice – here the emphasis is on making the participants apply their learning on real life problems to give them the much needed confidence (c) Project - this part of the training could extend over 6-12 months where the participants are exposed to the complete idea to market evolution of an innovation project. The emphasis at this phase is on enabling team creativity and excelling in project execution.

To be successful in innovation, the innovator needs both the freedom for creativity and the discipline for execution. Hence in the concepts module, we need to train both in creativity techniques and project management processes. Most innovation happens not just by a specialist engineer or scientist – it needs a team cutting across different functionalities. Hence the practice module should involve cross-functional teams rather than individuals. The project module is designed to engage the entire team across all the phases – market study, VOCs, ideation, building engineering solutions, creating IP, Prototyping, product launch etc. Thus all team members are exposed to all spheres activities and they learn to appreciate the importance of each. This leads to cross-pollination of ideas and synergistic functioning. 

B.              Customizing innovation training for different roles

People at all levels of the organization play a role in building a culture of innovation in an organization. We broadly classify people into three categories - individual contributors, managers and leaders. The individual contributors – inventors, engineers, scientists, technicians etc. – are the largest population and form the base of the innovation pyramid. Managers in the product development organizations also called as functional leaders, form the middle layer in the organization and their primary responsibility is project delivery. They are custodians of the stage-gate NPD process [5]. Technology and business leaders have the highest responsibility of creating the mission and driving the vision. They set the organization goals and plan the product / technology roadmaps. They design the innovation strategy and own the innovation portfolio. It is understandable that the innovation skills required in these three roles are very different. Hence the innovation training content has to be carefully customized for each of these target groups (Table 1). In order to build a culture of innovation and sustain it, people at all the three levels need to be cognizant of their role is innovation and be adequately trained to play that role.

C.             !nnovation Flow

Innovation has two components - creating insightful ideas and taking those ideas successfully to the market. Our innovation training should develop skills for creating insightful ideas and skills for taking the idea to the market. The participants are trained to improve their powers of observing, questioning, incubating, associating and experimenting in order to help them create insightful ideas [6]. Though the idea is fresh and insightful, the innovator may still see strong barriers while taking the idea to the market. Hence the participants are also trained to develop entrepreneurial thinking [7], forecast technology and market evolution trends, think strategically to protect the idea and create an entry barrier to competitors, think creatively within the constraints of cost and demonstrate user-centric design thinking. These skills will help them to overcome the barriers on way to the market. With these ten skills in place, the innovators have much better chances of growing their ideas into innovations. The evolution of idea into innovation involves overcoming a series of barriers and the idea behind adopting a structured framework and a systematic process is only to proactively prepare the innovator to overcome these barriers.

Innovation Training Framework
Innovative Problem Solving
Innovation flow, Business Model
IP Basics, Team Dynamics
Idea Management
Stage-Gate, Balanced Score Card
Building a culture of innovation
Innovation Strategy and Roadmap
Innovation Play Book

The core of the proposed innovation training program is our systematic innovation framework - !nnovation flow. It consists of three distinct phases :

1.       Focus – focus on the opportunity space, analyze the ecosystem, formulate the problem etc
2.       Leap – escape from old ideas and allow new ideas to enter one’s mind – trigger right-brain thinking
Orient – align the ideas to the opportunity, recognize the constraints, relook at resources etc
3.       What’s next – predict what is going to happen next – analyze technology evolution trends and also evolution of market needs.

The Focus module trains innovators in opportunity mapping and problem analysis. The Leap module exposes them to a variety of creative and divergent thinking techniques. The Orient module trains them to think creatively within constraints and expose them to convergent thinking techniques. The What’s next module helps innovators to predict the trends and transition to the next-generation product / technology.   

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