!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: A Framework for Innovation

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Framework for Innovation

A new book on innovation is reviewed in the September 4 issue of Business Week. Judging from BW writer Dean Foust's summary of the book's central points, it's worth spreading the word on.

The authors of Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want are Curtis R. Carlson, CEO of SRI International, and William W. Wilmot, director of the Collaboration Institute. Their goal is to demonstrate that, contrary to the view that breakthroughs arise from lucky "Aha" moments, innovation is actually best pursued as a disciplined process of identifying and developing promising ideas.

Steve Hamm of Business Week met with Carlson to discuss his views on managing the innovation process. Hamm explains:
Back in the 1990s, SRI's revenues had stagnated, and when Carlson came in as CEO, he deconstructed the place and decided that it needed a lot more discipline. Back then, innovation was ad hoc, there wasn't a lot of team work, and there wasn't a single process discipline spanning the entire organization. He remodeled SRI, creating common practices and processes for all of the business units, encouraging teaming, and making everything more quantifiable.
Ultimately, Carlson and colleagues determined that a robust innovation process requires practice of five disciplines:
  • identifying customer needs

  • spotting technologies and solutions that best meet them

  • empowering innovation champions

  • building teams

  • aligning the entire organization around value creation for customers
Some will say, "Sounds like good old-fashioned common sense," to which I would say, "common sense" covers a lot of territory. You need to know what principles are crucially relevant in a particular situation.

Carlson is a believer in The Toyota Way, especially the principle of continuous improvement. SRI's application of this principle in the company's innovation process centers on the "watering hole," a structured brainstorming session:
Carlson runs this forum every two to six weeks at SRI, with five to 20 participants from different departments, including the team pitching an idea, technical and legal staff, and a market expert, as well as current or potential business partners.
.The evaluation of the idea involves pinning down answers to four questions:
  • What is the market need?

  • What were the alternative approaches to meeting it?

  • What is the cost-benefit analysis?

  • How does the cost-benefit analysis compare to competitive offerings?
An idea that passes muster is revisited in subsequent sessions for fresh evaluation and refinement.

For those wondering if there is any evidence that this structured approach actually works, Carlson can point to the 10% annual growth in revenue that SRI is currently realizing.

A final note: Carlson is not talking about shortcuts to success. Perseverance in developing an idea to its full potential is essential for giving it competitive legs.