Where do good ideas come from? (2)

“What bound them was a shared belief in the nearly sacred mission of Bell Laboratories and the importance of technological innovation. The men preferred to think that they worked not in a laboratory but (…) in an institute of creative technology. This description aimed to inform the world that the line between art and science  of what Bell scientists did wasn’t always distinct (…) they were paid for their imaginative abilities. But they were also paid for working within a culture, and within an institution, where they very point of new ideas was to make them into new things.” – “The Idea Factory. Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation” by Jon Gerner.

“There are two ways of identifying projects to pursue. One is to recognize that a scientific field has emerged or reached an inflection point, and that it can solve, often in a new way, a practical problem of importance (…) the second way to identify projects is to uncover an emerging user need that existing technologies cannot address (…) a project portfolio should include a healthy balance of both kinds of initiatives (…) both can be identified through quantitative analyses (…) Project leaders who can successfully lead DARPA like efforts posses the skills of the best CEOs of science or engineering based start-ups.” – “Special Forces Innovation: How DARPA Attacks Problems” by  Regina E. Dugan and Kaigham J. Gabriel.


Previous article: “Where do good ideas come from (1)?


image

Old Idea by F.P. Carrion. Creative Commons.


My experience is that a good idea can actually come from anywhere, anyone and at unexpected times. Perhaps, what it takes to deliver a successful ideation process that is repeatable is a better question to ask than just where a good idea could come from. Serial ideation is a critical success factor for the following reasons:

  • a one trick pony (one-offs) might not be able to sustain a company’s business over the mid and long term
  • fast followers can not just catch up and compete, but also move up the value chain, unless the company remains a step ahead
  • the cloud age brings about lower barriers to entry and the need for market leaders to rise the stakes
  • change happens and what makes a company successful in the future is no longer what that enterprise started with

Picasso was quoted saying that “good artists borrow, great artists steal.”  As shocking as that might first sound, the underlying message is meant to be a thought provoking one. There is a good chance that the point behind that statement had more to do with:

  • exercising one’s curiosity and being out there scouting
  • engaging in public discourse, sharing and learning from others
  • deconstructing, assimilating, aggregating, evolving, transforming and revolutionizing
  • looking for applications in new or adjacent contexts or, simply, taking things to new levels
  • making the outcome one’s own signature work and innovating in the process

To Picasso’s point, serial ideation can benefit from scouting and tuning in concepts to a particular market frequency. There are some other thoughts on this topic which I would like to share in subsequent articles. However, I would now like to provide the following list. Please keep in mind that these one-line-descriptions might not fully depict the scope of what a given item entails:

Ideation set 1:

  • theory of constrains – defining limitations and operating boundaries to work with
  • unconstrained thinking – devising the art of the possible without boundaries
  • blue ocean – looking for new uncontested opportunities
  • scenario planning – identifying context, variables and probabilities for future scenarios
  • game theory – modeling decisions, conflict and resolution paths
  • predictive markets – speculative markets where participants buy and sell “idea futures”
  • predictive analytics – statistical analysis forecasting future events

Ideation set 2:

  • cross pollination – identifying and integrating elements from different domains and projects, connecting dots
  • cross functional team – collaborating across different disciplines, functional expertise, experience and levels in an organization
  • holistic approach – zooming out to assess the value of the whole and how parts interact, an end-to-end systems approach
  • systems integration – leveraging synergies across elements and subsystems under a new overarching solution
  • situational awareness – assessing contexts and environments as well as cause-effect relationships
  • network effects – exploring externalities and chain reactions
  • multivariable testing – testing for more than one component or aspect
  • a/b testing – comparison testing involving alternative options

Ideation set 3:

  • reduction – deconstructing a problem and solving for smaller ones first
  • point solution – zooming in by focusing on addressing a single problem
  • post mortem –  extracting learning from a finished project whether successful or unsuccessful
  • reverse engineering – learning gained from the backward analysis of an existing solution
  • analytics –  capturing patterns, identifying leading and lagging indicators and relationships
  • deep dive – immersing the research team in a given situation or problem

Ideation set 4:

  • subject matter expertise – know-how delivered by specialists and analysts
  • doogfooding – gathering first hand feedback from employees using the company’s own products
  • role play – simulation exercise where researchers assume personas, characters relevant to a problem
  • ethnographic research – unobtrusively observing users’ behaviors in real-life contexts
  • empathy research – researchers experience themselves the same cases and context lived by actual users
  • usability testing – gathering direct input from users as they are using the system
  • user diaries – logs and activity diaries capturing test users situations, benefits and challenges
  • liveblogging – rolling information shared by means updates, blogging and streaming video
  • sensing network – obtaining environmental and individual data from sensors and videos
  • day-in-the-life – studying interaction lifecycles (before-during-after time lapses) for a given user or set of users
  • focus groups – qualitative input gathered by facilitating group discussions with stakeholders
  • user interview – individual, one one one discussions
  • lead user – input provided by early adopters as well as examining adaptations created by power users
  • user feedback survey – leveraging conventional surveying tools
  • user forum – conference involving customers
  • online user forum – web based user input
  • social media – conversations, listening and reputation management tools involving social networking

Ideation set 5:

  • crowdsourcing – soliciting ideas and solutions by engaging external contributors online
  • contests – reward based competitions involving in-house and/or external experts
  • idea box tools designed to collect new ideas, some also include voting
  • boot camp – fast track experiential training as part of project development

As shared above, another article on this topic will follow. Thanks for the emails received to date ; )


“Descartes said in the Discourse on Method that it didn’t matter how smart you were; if you didn’t go about things the right way –with the right method- you would not discover anything.” – “Descartes Problem-Solving” by Judith Grabiner.

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