Month: August 2012

Innovative or Not? – Dip and Squeeze

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Every so often we take a look at a new or iconic product to evaluate the innovation (or lack thereof) behind it. One of us will argue for good, one for bad, and the third will make a final judgement.

Have a suggestion for what we should do next or disagree with our assessments? Have your say in the comments.

Recently a Chicago based inventor filed suit again H.J. Heinz, claiming that it’s recently launched ‘Dip & Squeeze’ format for ketchup was infringing on a patent he has filed in 2005. Whether or not infringement has occurred we’ll leave to the courts. The more pressing question is: is the ‘Dip & Squeeze’ Innovative or Not?

‘Dip & Squeeze’ – Not Innovative

Dispensing fluids from containers is a problem that has plagued the foods industry among others for decades if not longer. If you’re a regular at a fast food restaurant or local Chinese delivery service you’re well acquainted with the myriad pouches, sachets, cups, and tubes used to delivery condiments for your food. Heinz, in combining the squeeze action found in a pouch of mustard with the dipping action found in a container of BBQ sauce, certainly struck a chord with fast food regulars used to struggling as they eat on the go. However, the ‘Dip & Squeeze’ doesn’t represent an innovative leap forward as Heinz might wish us to assume – it’s simply another incremental stepwise improvement for the packaging industry. Incremental innovation is defined as the addition of features to an existing technology in order to slightly improve the format. Just as Gilette added an extra blade, mp3 players added video, and cars added GPS to the standard feature set sustaining improvements are part of any development strategy. If we were to take a portable tub of sauce as a starting point, one of the first ideas we would find to improve it would be to add precision application.

The ‘Dip & Squeeze’ ties in to a very good consumer insight – that people want to eat in their car – but doesn’t take a massive leap forward to change how customers use the product. That is why, regardless who invented it, it is not innovative.

‘Dip & Squeeze’ – Innovative

You and your best friend are on the road and stop at a drive through for a bite to eat.  You both get your favorite, french fries and ketchup and then you realize… how are we going to eat these?  You like to dip your fries, while your best friend likes to squeeze the ketchup right on the fries, the solution a packet of ketchup that can be used either for dipping or for squeezing.  This is exactly what a Chicago inventor has recently been granted a patent on.  He has taken a format that has not changed in a long time, and has found a way to innovate on it (which often is the hardest).  If you are a dipper no more having to worry about where to put your ketchup, simply open the top and you have a container of ketchup to dip in.  If you are a squeezer, use the packaging as you would any packet of ketchup, rip open a corner and use as you would.  Given that a ketchup packet is really just that, a ketchup packet and someone has found a way to bring new news to such a simple product is why I believe this idea innovative.  Sometimes the simplest of ideas are the most innovative.

‘Dip & Squeeze’ – The Verdict

Essentially the arguments have boiled down to the question of how impressive a product advance needs to be in order to qualify for the tag of “innovative”.  All products change over their lifetime; most incremental changes are turned around so rapidly and impact our consumer behavior so minimally that we hardly notice them at all.  This “background noise” innovation is so pervasive that we tend not to label it innovation, reserving the phrase for the more impressive advances of our industries.  Is Dip & Squeeze simply background noise or does it meet the fuzzy criteria of innovative?  The answer may lie in two facts.  Firstly, Dip & Squeeze has met the requirements of the US patent office. For such a basic idea this is not insignificant as the examiners would have plenty of reference material along with real world experience with which to judge the novelty of the patent application.  The second is the length of time that passed after single serve ketchup first appeared before Dip & Squeeze arrived. Incremental innovation is normally rapid; often companies are working on improvements before they launch the first version of their product. For such an obvious improvement to have taken so long to be realized probably indicates that the improvement was a significant technical mountain even if conceptually it was a molehill.  Verdict:  Innovative.

The Forest: A Perfect New Conference Room?

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Is the traditional conference room really a good place to hold an innovation session? Are creativity, energy, and involvement from participants predicated on where the event takes place? In this post I will show you how it really is all about “Location, Location, Location” – a phrase realtors often use in explaining how the value of a home can increase or decrease drastically depending upon where it is.

Many times when planning an innovation session, a lot of attention is given to the structure of the events, schedule for the day, and participants. There are lots of ideas all over the internet and available from consultants on what events to include and their proper implementation. However, when it comes time to find a location, typically a conference room within either the company or some hotel is booked and no more thought is given – the task is done.

Although many hotel conference rooms are convenient due to their catering, climate control, and familiar corporate setting (think large well lit room with table and chairs around it) they still fall short of being an ideal venue for holding an innovation event for the following reasons. First, they keep participants within a familiar surrounding enabling it easy to remain in the corporate mindset. Because of this, participants tend to check emails, talk to colleagues about projects, and in general not be as completely immersed as they should be in the creative process. Secondly, people equate conference rooms with long tiring meetings, and so innovation sessions can unfortunately fall victim rather easily to this psychological association. Overcoming this requires numerous breaks throughout the day to keep peoples attention span at peak performance and hopefully prevent them from fatigue. This takes valuable time away from actual ideation and can become a factor which limits the number of activities that can be done in the allotted time span. Lastly, nothing beyond ideation effectively happens outside the planned events. If you want little extra bonuses like team building or people getting to know each other better, they would have to be built into the events in some way – and even then it is not completely effective. This also takes time away from the main goal of generating new ideas and tends to make it seem as though the team bonding aspect is in some way forced.

So then if the traditional conference room is ineffective, what are some good alternatives? Here is where creativity on the part of the session planner is required. Take some time to choose completely different and non traditional locations. Try to think of places that would either be challenging to the senses or elicit an emotionally uncomfortable environmental response. Off the top of my head, some suggestions may be using an abandoned building, going deep in an underground cave, or ideate while on different rides at an amusement park. Going even further, why not consider renting out an empty space and transforming it into the surface of the moon or some distant planet. Why not be innovative in the construction and planning the innovation event? Recently, Osmotic Innovation was made aware of a large global company within the NJ/NY area that took participants out into the middle of the forest to innovate. No comfy climate controlled conference rooms here – but just imagine the ideas and team building that came from camping overnight while trying to avoid bears and other wildlife! As I am sure most Social Psychologists would agree, a highly effective way to brings teams together while simultaneously engaging different parts of the brain would certainly be that of everyone experiencing and overcoming some sort of emotional experience together. Can you visualize how different the environment would be sitting with colleagues in an old abandoned building? What do you think the ominous sounds, musty scents, and graffiti sprayed on the peeling wallpaper would contribute towards forcing participants to forget about work and be in the moment? Imagine the unique and effective events one could plan while in such an environment (taking safety precautions, of course). I don’t know about you, but I know for sure if I were there, checking work emails and worrying about project deadlines would be last on the list!

Therefore, as Osmotic Innovators, lets push ourselves to think of ways to overturn the traditional (cookie cutter type) innovation session and find ways to challenge participants beyond the events by immersing them in new and stimulating environments. Retire the thought of using boring conference rooms and make innovation sessions both an event and experience. Why do we expect participants to provide creative ideas if the innovation sessions themselves are not dynamic? After all, wasn’t it stated that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results? Well, the same phrase can certainly be applied to innovation sessions. Push participants even further by removing their comfort zones and you will be amazed at the output and level of engagement you will begin to see in response.

The two sides of…Idea Management Software

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Heads

Every organization has its own way of generating ideas, but unless the system is totally broken there is always a plentiful supply of good, bad, and indifferent ideas floating in the minds of its employees. The main problem organizations have is in tapping into those ideas in a way that allows the best ones to rise to the top. In top down organizations leadership designates priority areas to ensure focus but can miss the boat on big wins from disruptive innovation. Organizations that allow everyone to work on their own pet idea are rewarding innovation, but allow its impact to be diluted through extensive resource waste on repetitive and irrelevant ideas.

How can an organization get the best of both? Rather than reinventing the wheel to come up with a new system the most efficient path forward can be the utilization of an off-the-shelf idea management software like Spigit, Imaginatik, or Brightidea that encourages idea submission from all parts of the organization and that then commences an organized process of idea ranking to find the big opportunity areas. This avoids the pitfall of having too few people making a decision and missing out on a big opportunity – the crowd sourcing or stock market approach allows contributors to collaborate to build ideas up and move good ones forward. It also allows management to designate winning ideas to go forward and to be allocated the necessary resources to succeed. Besides these two benefits – involving all employees in the innovation process and ensuring proper focus and allocation – idea management systems also become a de facto filing system for ideas, making sure that work your organization has done in the past doesn’t get lost. Ideas that have been vetted and collaboratively generated are at the ready anytime you need a new innovation.

Idea management software won’t generate winning ideas for you – but it will simplify the process of managing innovation and will allow you to master your innovation pipeline.

Tails

Idea management software is becoming more and more commonplace in corporate environments and the number of different vendors producing and selling their own management platforms seems to increase every day.  Like all productivity tools they have their place and when used well can add tremendous value to an organization’s efficiency. However, idea management tools must be chosen very carefully and before beginning down this path you should consider the following:

Are you sure that the problem your company has is too many great ideas?  If your staff isn’t sure what to work on because they aren’t sure what (if any) are the good ideas then maybe idea management isn’t as important to you as an improved idea generation process

Are you sure that an idea management platform can cope with the shear number of ideas in your innovation portfolio?  Many platforms promote their ability to cope with large numbers of entries, but does the interface allow for the user to cope?

For platforms that promote some sort of crowd wisdom approach to idea management, are you sure that the software will be engaging enough to get a large number of people involved?  Crowd wisdom only works if there is a crowd.

Many platforms include mechanisms for contacting internal experts or require experts or management to comment for ideas to progress.  This works when the idea base is well targeted and relevant, but when a system becomes a catch-all for every half baked idea in the company, the contact mechanisms can rapidly become inbox spam turning off the very people who can contribute most to the system.

Like all productivity tools the adoption of idea management software has to drive a benefit for the company in the form of improved output (do more stuff), improved efficiency (do the same stuff with less people) or improved quality (do better stuff).  Do you know how to measure or realize this benefit for your innovation program?

In short, better idea management is a challenge that all innovation groups face but the system you chose must match both the quality and quantity of the ideas in your portfolio.  Just because it doesn’t have a URL doesn’t mean it isn’t cutting edge.

Is IP Stopping Innovation

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Are we poised to enter the post-IP age? Has the concept of the patent or trademark as we know it today been so muddled by modern corporate strategy and greed that it no longer serves the purpose it was originally conceived to support? In reading about the upcoming Apple vs. Samsung patent trial one has to wonder how the consumer or public good is served as these two giants of the tablet and smart phone industry prepare to battle it out over the right to own the market. Rather than focusing on how to make their product substantially better than the competitors they prefer to fight over how to block them from competing. The question is – does this hurt innovation?

Patents have been used to support invention since at least 1474 when they were formalized by a Venetian Statute. Even prior to this they existed as ‘letters patent’ issued by the king or queen to inventors in England or even further back in ancient Greece where inventors of new ‘refinements’ were afforded 1 year of profits. In the US the Congress passed the first patent act in 1790 to ‘promote the progress of useful Arts.’ Over the two subsequent centuries patent law has been refined and altered to more appropriately suit the now global marketplace and economy but many aspects of these legal grants have stayed the same.

Do the same rules make sense in the new, constantly evolving digital economy? After all, the original intent of providing patents was to incentivize disclosure of invention for the public good. Is that still happening? Let’s break down some key characteristics of patent law today to review how this helps or hurts innovation.

 

–         Filing Process: the process of applying for a global patent is a byzantine one, involving multiple organizations and sets of laws. For any company hoping to commercialize and protect a new invention the process can be daunting. Not only does this add cost and time to commercialization (often lots of both) of a new innovation, the differences in the examination and discovery process mean that what is novel in one state could be found ‘not inventive’ in another. By the time the examiners and lawyers are finished amending and shifting the filings what is protected in one region might be unprotected or infringing in another! Additionally, this expensive and time consuming process tilts the scales against individuals and small firms, leaving them essentially out of the process. The very people meant to be protected by the patent system – individuals with great ideas – are excluded unless they can muster significant resources to go through the filing process. The patent system then becomes a game that is played by large firms with the resources to engage in de facto patent war with their competitors!

–         Lifetime: patents last for about 20 years – great news if you can get one, bad news if you come up with a substantial but infringing product improvement 5 years later (or even 15 years later!). In the world of telecom and digital this is several lifetimes but in pharmaceuticals this is just the start for a successful product. The differences in these industries mean that a one-size-fits-all approach is not necessarily the best one. As well, the speed of knowledge improvement has so substantially shifted in the digital era that one has to wonder why any law written to support innovation in the age of the horse and carriage is still being used in the age of the Dreamliner!

–         Infringement Liability: the substantial rewards that might be expected from winning a patent lawsuit have led to the rise of an entirely new industry, patent trolls. These companies or firms buy up patents and use them as leverage to extort payment from other companies. It also encourages opposing firms to face off in court rather than work together. All this time litigating drains firm resources and limits real innovation, while providing a disincentive to making new and innovative products without obtaining firm IP protection. Too often companies look at the ability to create a sustainable IP position as a major factor in developing a new product, rather than looking for the best products. We’ve progressed from twenty patents in a year to thousands – shouldn’t the legal system have changed to allow speedy resolution of these cases in a fair and equitable fashion as well?

It’s obvious the current system isn’t doing much to drive innovation in most industries. Perhaps its time that governments and innovators came together to reform the patent system in a way that lets both companies and consumers win. Imagine if Apple and Samsung were to focus the resources currently tied up in lawyers and patents with creating new products – the consumers and companies might never look back!

In the meantime what does this mean for you, the osmotic innovator? Avoid falling into the trap of worrying about maintaining a defendable position at the expense of the consumer experience of your product. Don’t infringe on others IP but wasting resources unnecessarily protecting short term innovations won’t pay off in the end! And if this post interests you take a look at some previous posts on this blog regarding Enlightened IP Strategy – hopefully you’ll start to see a light at the end of the dark IP tunnel.

Osmotic Innovation is Back from Vacation

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The Innovation Vacation

This piece in the Washington Post is focused on small business owners but should remind all of us that taking a break can be great to find energy and new ideas, as well as reinvigorating your spirit and allowing you to focus on the big picture.

The Problem-Solving Paradox of Creativity

Ever needed to find a creative solution to a critical issue facing your team? The harder you dive into it, the less likely you are to find a solution. Jeffrey Davis at The Creativity Post takes a stab at what mind-state allows you to capture creativity.

Find the Time to Innovate

Typically when faced with innovation challenges, we begin to hear numerous variations of the excuse “I don’t have time”. In this article written by Braden Kelley, some suggestions to overcome this universal problem are provided.

Think Like a Genius

In a Michael Michalko article appearing on The Creativity Post, we learn what thinking strategies are used by creative genius’ to drive forward. This is full of great strategies that can turn your next innovation or problem-solving session on its head!

Darkest Days

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Blackout-01One exercise in patience that everyone who visits India must get used to is the occasional absence of power.  What a few weeks of this exercise imparts on you is a rather serene acceptance to the situation.  Yesterday the AIG jointly experienced an eight hour blackout along with 300 million others as most of the north of India lost juice. Stop and ask yourself what chaos would unfold if the entire United States (excluding Alabama and North Carolina) went dark?  Here in India, a few commuters were a bit late for work and the newspaper headlines read: “India wins Bronze in the 10m air rifle”.

Update: Today we experienced a cut that affected 600 million people.  Some traffic jams were observed in central Delhi and we had a rather unexpected wait at the cafe for lunch.