Saturday, December 7, 2013

Twelve Books on Innovation for Your Holiday Gift List

With the holidays approaching, here are an even dozen of my favorite books on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship to put on your holiday gift list if they are not already in your library.  Most of these are recent books that emphasize the basic principles and emerging best practices of innovation. 

Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur.  This book presents the business model canvas for visually representing the business model and spurring innovation.  The canvas concept is brilliant and is the hottest thing going these days.  This one is a must read as it appears to me that the awareness and use of the canvas outside the U.S. is far greater than it is here.

The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. Another must have book that has expanded the approaches and language of entrepreneurship to include the ‘lean startup’, ‘minimum viable product’, and ‘pivot’.

The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley.  A great book from the IDEO world that identifies that innovation is a team activity and a team with diverse backgrounds and experiences is essential.

The Innovators DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen.  A good one in the Clayton Christensen series that proposes that all great innovators possess the ‘discovery’ skills – observing, associating, questioning, networking, and experimenting.  We think discipline and systems competencies are also needed for innovation in a technical environment.  (Innovation Competencies)

Ten Types of Innovation by Larry Keeley.  A book that is simple in concept but clearly identifies that the approaches of innovation apply in all areas of the enterprise and market.

101 Design Methods by Vijay Kumar.  This book includes the influence of systems thinking in innovation and presents a model for integrating the design methods presented.  I prefer the innovation canvas as a framework and better for integrating design and market thinking, but still on the right track and a good book.

InGenius by Tina Selig.  This book captures current thinking and best practices on inspiring creativity.  I keep forgetting but the book reminds me of the very simple but effective thought of how you pose questions and lead discussions can inspire or inhibit creativity.

The Business Model Innovation Factory by Saul Kaplan.  The book notes that every organization really needs a business model and should focus on constantly experimenting and revising that model to ensure survival and prosperity.

The Innovation Master Plan by Langdon Morris.  This book takes a comprehensive look at developing the structure, practices, and culture necessary for creativity and innovation across the enterprise.

The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde.  A book that is a true visual treat that introduces visual note taking.  I’m not very good at it but am working on it.

Change by Design by Tim Brown.  This book provides a look into the IDEO way of thinking and proposes that ‘design thinking’ can serve as the framework for inspiring innovation throughout the enterprise. 

The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton.  While it’s all in the definition, this book reminds us that the success and prosperity of cities and nations in the future will depend on job creation - the combination of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship to create successful business models.

Following the guideline of always deliver more than you promise, here are a few more to consider.

Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming.  I’m a huge Deming admirer.  Similar to the perception of ‘innovation’ today, he worked in a time when ‘quality’ was the cringeworthy buzzword of the day.  His focus may have been applications in improving quality, but many of his 14 Points and other thoughts written some 30 years ago are related to innovation best practices that we are rediscovering today.  It was Deming who bluntly noted “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz.  Never heard of this one?  Written in 1960, this personal development book sounds slightly dated in places but offers simple and positive messages for innovators including focusing on action, experimenting, and overcoming failure.   

The Innovation Canvas - A Tool to Develop Integrated Product Designs and Business Models  by Bill Kline, Cory Hixson, et al.  The Innovation Canvas is a visual framework centered on value creation.  It improves business performance by integrating the key themes of design and market thinking.  We haven’t received our book offer yet but I’m sure it’s in the mail.  I am obviously biased but I think this is worth a read.  Available for download from ASEE here (Innovation Canvas)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Innovation Competencies - What are they and how can they be developed

In the past, mastery of technology and invention were characteristics of successful corporations and nations.  In the future, the mastery of innovation and complexity will be necessary for companies and organizations to survive and thrive. The ability to partner, connect, and rapidly develop new solutions and processes will be necessary to create value, develop new industries, create sustainable companies, and result in prosperity and a higher quality of life.

Recognizing this imperative, a recent Boston Consulting Group survey (1) of 1500 executives indicates that innovation is a top-three priority for 76 percent of companies surveyed and that 74 percent of industrial companies plan to increase innovation investment.

With innovation established as a top corporate and organizational priority, the fundamental questions arise of what are the critical innovation competencies and how do we develop them in students or employees.  

Three competencies have been identified as essential for innovation in a technical environment – expertise in a discipline or domain, the discovery competencies, and understanding of a system (2).

The Innovator’s DNA (3) characterizes the necessary creative and team based problem solving skills as the ‘discovery skills’.  While the discovery skills are important, two additional competencies are necessary for innovation in a technical context.  First, expertise in a discipline is clearly a necessary competency.  For example, I may want to develop the next generation of innovative hybrid vehicle, but if I don’t have the technical foundation in the related disciplines, it is unlikely that I will make much progress.

Perhaps not as apparent, expertise in systems competencies is also a necessary competency for innovation.  The system engineering competencies are technical in nature but not aligned with a particular discipline such as mechanical or electrical engineering.  The systems competencies include considering the stakeholder view, viewing a complex system as a network of subsystems with inputs and outputs, and viewing a system in its functional and physical structure.  This ability to disassemble and reassemble the basic functions and elements of a system is a critical competency for innovation.   It is interesting to note that the quality visionary W. Edwards Deming recognized the importance of a systems perspective in his Theory of Profound knowledge some 30 years ago.  

Once an understanding of the innovation competencies has been identified, the next concern becomes how are they taught and developed in students and employees.  Results in this area are still being developed, but in general, they are taught and developed through a combination of content and experiences.  In addition, they must be taught simultaneously and purposefully to produce innovative results.  Engineering programs clearly teach and develop discipline competencies and sometimes provide some exposure to the systems competencies.  In The Innovator’s DNA (3), exercises are presented to develop each of the discovery skills individually.

The Business Model Canvas (4) and more recently the Innovation Canvas (5) have been introduced to develop innovative business models and product designs.  The figure presented is the IDEO shopping cart represented on the Innovation Canvas.  The canvas concept itself represents a framework and teaching tool for a team to simultaneously exercise the three innovation competencies.   First, use of the canvases requires expertise in engineering or business disciplines.  The structure and elements on the canvases are derived from a systems decomposition of models for the business plan or the design process.  Finally, using the canvases requires a team to exercise most of the discovery skills including networking, associating, questioning, and experimenting.

The discipline of innovation is rapidly advancing past tips, tricks, and best practices to identifying core competencies and tools and methods to develop them.   Results in these areas are continuing to be developed but innovation is clearly on a path to becoming better defined and supported through model based approaches with underlying tools and methods.

(2)     Schindel, William D., Samuel N. Peffers, James H. Hanson, Jameel Ahmed, and William A. Kline. “All Innovation is Innovation of Systems: An Integrated 3-D Model of Innovation Competencies.” Proceedings of the 2011 ASEE Annual Conference, Vancouver, Canada, July 2011.
(3)     Dyer, Jeff, Hal Gregerson, and Clayton M. Christensen. The Innovator’s DNA. Boston, Harvard Business Review Press, 2011.he Innovators DNA,
(4)     Osterwalder, Alexander, Yves Pigneur, and Tim Clark. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010.
(5)     Kline, William A., Cory Hixson, Thomas W. Mason, Patricia Brackin, Robert Bunch, KC Dee, Glen Livesay, 'The Innovation Canvas -A Tool to Develop Integrated Product Designs and Business Models,' submitted to: Proceedings of the 2013 ASEE Annual Conference, Atlanta, GA, June 2013.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Nurturing Innovation at the Branam Innovation Center

The Branam Innovation Center (BIC) is a collaborative project space where students work on competition team projects involving the latest technology and real world problem solving.  The center is 16,000 sq ft under one roof and houses eight student competition teams with over 200 students in total involved across all the teams.  The center has been named for our former President Matt Branam who was a strong supporter of innovation programs on campus and championed the building of the center in the summer of 2011.
The format for most teams and competitions is the same.  The teams form in the fall at the start of school under the supervision of a faculty adviser.  They develop their vehicle or solution for a competition that happens in May or June and the cycle repeats each year.  The project work is inherently multidisciplinary and involves students from freshman to senior.  Rose-Hulman teams have been remarkably successful and our teams have competed in locations as close as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or at venues across the country.

At the grand opening in 2011, Trustee David Hannum humorously referred to the center as a ‘garage’ and that cool things happen in a garage.  He was right about cool things happening in the building but there is more to it than just the space.  What makes a garage an ‘innovation center’?

The themes of the practice of innovation are collaboration, teamwork, applying the latest technology, prototyping, and speed of development.  The center has been developed and operated with these themes in mind.  First, the building was designed in an open concept with no walls between teams. The only separation between them is a tape line on the floor.  The competitions themselves encourage application of the latest technology.  Activities in the innovation center are team based and the open design fosters excitement and interaction between teams.  Speed of prototyping and development is encouraged by having resources available here for students to rapidly build and test ideas.   There are meeting areas, a small machine shop, welding room, and teams have resources at hand for their project work.

Through these competition team experiences, students apply their technical skills and learn teamwork, communication, project management, and solving complex problems involving technology, budget, and schedule constraints.  These are great professional practice experiences for students and are highly valuable during the job search process.

Another important theme of innovation is that ‘anyone can play’ - being innovative does not take a big capital investment or years of experience.  A garage can become an effective innovation center and has at our Branam Innovation Center.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Invitation to Dream: Innovation is a Necessary Organizational Competency

October 2012 - Today globalization and connectivity mean that businesses and organizations compete not only in products, services, and market share but for who will survive or perish. In many markets, competitive advantages have eroded, barriers to entry have lowered, and the speed and intensity of competition has increased.  

Is ‘innovation,’ commonly cited in advertisements and mission statements, just the latest fad or the next real thing?  Although misused, overused, and misunderstood, I believe innovation is an emerging discipline that is not only here to stay but is quickly becoming a critical organizational competency.  The organizations that will survive and thrive will not be the best inventor of new ideas and technology, but will be the best innovator who is nimble and resourceful to capture market and customer opportunities.  

Innovation has many definitions and uses however here it means focusing on turning ideas into something of commercial value, speed of development, working in diverse teams, embracing technology, and a willingness to rapidly develop and test new solutions.  

While innovation may be yet another competency to be developed, the good news is that it can be understood, taught, learned and practiced.  In the way that entrepreneurship and quality have developed as academic disciplines, innovation is ripe for the same analysis and presentation.
At Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, one of our priorities is graduating students who will be the innovators and technical leaders of the future.   Our programs inspire innovation by establishing teams of students to take part in high quality, high touch project work that requires grappling with the complexities of the real world and practicing the skills of innovation.

Our most unique program, Rose-Hulman Ventures, works in the ‘innovation-stage’ of development taking product ideas from outside clients and employing student teams alongside professional project engineers to develop the ideas into fully realized, workable solutions that are ready to be reproduced or manufactured for market. 

In our decade of experience with the Ventures program and working on hundreds of innovation stage projects, we have had many successful and a few unsuccessful project outcomes.   Out of all these experiences, these best practices and lessons learned for inspiring innovation in a team or an organization have been captured and offered here.

Anyone can play - Innovation is within the reach of any organization or individual.   Being innovative does not require an advanced degree or significant capital investment.  Innovation is the great equalizer as the next great innovator in a market may be anywhere in the world or any person in the organization. 

It’s a team sport - Achieving success in the innovation stage of development requires multiple hands, a variety of skills, and a group of independent perspectives approaching problems from different angles.  To achieve innovation in your organization, get people to work together in teams.

Speed wins - Speed is the fundamental principle of innovation.  Speed energizes the organization, creates a sense of urgency, and is the key element of ‘fail fast and fail often’ or 'experiment often and learn quickly' – many unsuccessful experiments or prototypes leading to a successful outcome.  

Scopes creep - Creating and developing something new often means that it is not possible up front to write the detailed plan for going from start to finish.  Develop a general scope and direction at the start of the project, begin the work, and accept that the scope will evolve over time as intermediate results and new information become available.  It’s a real innovation killer to insist that a detailed project plan be developed when creative and innovative solutions must be developed.  
Walnuts before peanuts - Every project breaks down into multiple problems and tasks that must be solved before an innovation breakthrough can be accomplished.  It is imperative to prioritize and crack the tough nuts first in order to make effective progress on the project.  Taking on the easy tasks first likely means revisiting them when the tough ones are addressed.

Let others drive A top down, authoritative leadership style encourages great followers, not great innovators.  Great teams find their strength by assuring that opportunities to lead and innovate are available for all team members.  

These lessons learned provide guidelines for innovation stage development and also more broadly to inspire innovation in teams and organizations.  We have found at Rose-Hulman that innovation can come from anywhere and can be instilled in anyone. The next great innovator in your organization could just be you.