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Open Innovation and TRIZ

Open Innovation and TRIZ

| On 19, Aug 2010

Ellen Domb

Two times in two weeks on two continents then twice more by e-mail people asked about TRIZ and open innovation.  Sounds like a trend?   I honestly had not given it much thought, and before my current exposure I would have said that my impression of open innovation was that companies invite outsiders to contribute ideas in order to get more ideas from a population that is more diverse than their employees, and that if they used TRIZ, they could solve their own problems and not rely on the mob.    I was a bit uncomfortable with this, remembering that when I was new to TRIZ, an expert (he thought he was being kind!) said that it was too bad that I had put so much time and effort into QFD, since now, with TRIZ, you can solve all the problems and predict all the customer needs so you don’t need QFD.  

Regular readers may remeber that at TRIZ India we heard lot about open innovation from the Yahoo India participants.” One of their unique concepts was conducting 2 hack events,  inviting  their own employees to one and outsiders to another, creating new applications, presenting them to a judging board (talent show style) and being rewarded immediately for high potential ideas.    My TRIZ bias started to dissolve:   the participants were not solving a problem that the sponsor had defined; rather, they were solving their own problem, and the judges were deciding both whether the problem was general enough (there would be other customers) and the solution was good enough.

When I got back from India, my accumulated LinkedIn messages included a note from a friend in Minneapolis pointing out a meeting in San Diego (which is 150 km from me and 2000 km from her)  and yes, the topic was open innovation.    Bright Ideas develops software that a lot of companies use to manage open innovation systems, and the Birds of a Feather meetng is a non-commercial users group meeting.     My estimate is that a bit more than half the participant were users of the software, a few used other methods, and some, like me, were just there to learn about the topic.   Next meetings are in Zurich and in Hong Kong, and I recommend them – – very good speakers, very good experience sharing by participants, very restrained selling by the Bright Ideas people.   If you can’t get to a meeting, look at the on-line discussions, or do both.

Great big learning that I’m almost embarrassed to admit:   There are two different meanings to open innovation 
  1.   Inviting employees to contribute ideas outside their own areas of specialty.   This can be everything from the old-style company suggestion box to the current style of campaigns  where ideas are solicited for particular projects for a specific time period. 
  2.   Inviting non-employees to contribute ideas.   Popular versions of this are Innocentive, Nine Sigma, Idea Connections, and many others such as the recent attempts by BP and the US Environmental Protection Agency to get public contributions of ideas for solving the problem of the oil well catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.  They got more than 80,000 ideas, creating a new problem:   how to sort and evaluate the ideas, and they also created frustration – – I got many communiques from TRIZ practioners who had ideas but could not get them noticed by anyone in a position to do anything about them.

Jeffrey Phillips from OVOInnovation and John Russo from CCH Wolpers Kluper gave the morning presentations that were actionable lessons learned. Russo’s talk stimulated a lot of discussion of how many people in any group will participate, and the conflicting data on the use of incentives to stimulate participation.   Philip Horvath from INOS spoke more to the philosophy of communication and knowledge transfer, and stimulated a lot of discussion.

I’ll summarise highlights of Jeffrey’s paper because it has application to the whole  adventure of finding out how (and IF) TRIZ and open innovation can interact.   If you want to get more see 

Success depends on alignment of the innovative idea with overall company strategy – – NOT that the idea can’t be completely different from past work, but that the death of an idea is most likely to be caused by lack of resources (time, money, talent, attention, …) and resources are allocated according to strategies and operating plans that support those strategies.   We may talk about company culture, but it is an iceberg, with a tiny bit showing above the water, and most of it hiddent below, and in most cases companies only talk about the part that shows.   Biggest failure cause for specific idea campaigns is lack of criteria (or clear criteria, well-understood by contributors) and organizers should put a lot of work into creating the criteria before announcing the campaign, to avoid disappointing/frustrating the contributors.   Some members of the audience were surprised by one point, and other agreed vigorously:  evaluation is a skill, and experience matters, so develop a skilled cadre of evaluators.

Jeffrey and I are both on the program for the Business Innovation Conference in Chicago in October, and I look forward to learning more.

My  viewsnow on the role of TRIZ in Open Innovation (two somewhat new, one pretty much expected)
New: Formulate better questions or challenges.   Ideality gives a different perspective!
New  Don’t just select a best idea.   Use function and attribute analysis, use feature transfer (or the Pugh method) to hybridize ideas to create better ideas than the best of what was submitted.
Expected:   Generate ideas using TRIZ to solve the problems presented in the challenge.

I will be working with people who are now using open innovation in the coming months, and I invite readers to comment, so that I can combine what we are all learning into something we can all use.