Tips For Generating Innovations in Electronic Product Development

Successful organizations, world-wide, realize how important it is to their success to nourish creativity and innovation. Innovation is after all, the vanguard to increased competitiveness. Yes, competitiveness, that all important factor, for companies to be able to weather storms like current economy, globalization as well as rapidly evolving and disruptive technologies. My years of experience in the development of innovative electronic products, innovation challenges have necessitated the gathering and practice of techniques from many arenas.

Here are a few ideas that we have developed in my company. I hope you enjoy the following suggestions, and that they help expand and enable innovation in your organization, too.

Environment for Innovation
To build an environment good for innovation there must be an organizational climate that encourages, supports and rewards innovative effort. Executives must say and show, through incentives, rewards and recognition that the organization needs and will listen to the ideas of every one of its people.

Add Urgency
Capturing markets is urgent for companies – pass it on. Adding a sense of urgency to and making innovation a key to the company’s security and growth can generate great new ideas.

Embrace the Obstacles.
It could mean your ideas aren’t yet groundbreaking enough to invigorate the organization, let alone capture a market if there is nothing in the way of a new idea. Keep pushing; it is frequently a new approach to major obstacles that ends up resulting in real innovation.

Create Your Own Evaluation Tools.
Create simple tools such as a list of 10 questions of factors to vet your innovations. Have everyone one on the team participate. This lets everyone get in on the action and have buy-in while keeping evaluation costs down. Chances are you’re making the evaluation process too easy if more than 1 or 2 out of 20 ideas make it through the gamut.

Find Ways to Nurture Volunteerism.
Many people are willing to give up some of their time for great ideas. Find ways to nurture willingness, it is a powerful asset. Sometimes that means giving volunteers a project they have been interested in, or re-delegating tasks in order to free-up their time so they can help a project that could use their expertise and other times it is as simple as giving them kudos in the company news letter.

Promote it
Within the organization, keep it out in the open instead of a secret project or “skunk works”. Secret projects run counter to the idea that everyone can have great ideas. Innovation rarely happens behind closed doors.

Innovation Pipeline
Innovation is not magic. Peter Drucker has called it “hard, focused, purposeful work.” Make innovation a permanent part of the everyday process. Build it in to checklists for everyday efforts and carve out time in strategic planning specifically for it. Use tools like an intranet to keep people current on what’s new and exciting so that they can contribute too. The company that competes through innovation is one that has made the process of innovation a part of its daily operation.

Begin With Self-Appraisal
It’s not enough to wait for others to act; individual initiative is must to initiate the process of innovation. Gather data on what must be changed in order to stimulate innovation and establish priorities, outline actions to build the innovative process in your organization and start! Re-evaluate your innovation outline every year.

Get Outside Help if Necessary
There are plenty of professional groups whose main business, like Advantage Electronic Product Development, is the development of new and innovative products.
Look Right Underneath Your Nose
Every time a team or company believes that its device is about as good as possible, someone else comes out with a better idea or product. Many overlooked discoveries were right beneath their noses. Key discoveries that are frequently overlooked are not necessarily difficult, so question every assumption and look again with a fresh pair of eyes.

Keep in mind that technological elegance is simplicity, not complexity. Review ideas and innovations specifically for ways to simplify. Then, consider this simplification idea throughout the full life cycle of the product, manufacturing, upgrades and so forth.

Set Goals For It
People accomplish more when they’re trying for goals which are challenging, (even “impossible”) and clear, than they do when trying for any other type of goal. Goals drive action directly by affecting what people pay attention to, how hard they work, and how long they work at something. Assigning creativity goals is as effective as other types of goals, such as productivity goals.

“Re Package” Borrowed Ideas
The insufferable cocklebur inspired the idea for Velcro for the space program. Pringles Potato Chips were conceived after seeing wet leaves, which stack compactly without being damaged
Questions like these should be part of any innovation process:

“Where can I find an idea?”

“What ideas can I modify to fit my problem?”

“How is something similar done in nature”

“What else is like this?”

“What have others done?”

Brainstorming is considered a group technique, but an individual can brainstorm alone. A small group, with 10 or 12 members is recommended. The most effective way to brainstorm is to have everyone leave any though of criticism at the door. Even preposterous ideas have later been groomed into fabulous innovations.

Identify the key characteristics, or attributes, of the product. Then think up ways to change, or improve each of these, (called the “Substitution Method” in design engineering). “Disassemble” a product into its various characteristics for example, it functions, physical characteristics size, shape, color. Make a game out of inventing alterations for each of these characteristics and carefully address obstacles.

Innovation doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Care needs to be taken to ensure your creative strategy evolves in a way that will fit your organization. Then your organization can achieve its creativity objectives. Developing and improving good ideas can net breakthrough advances and the reward these efforts.

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How Product Managers Can Innovate and Not Lose Their Shirts

What’s your plan for making your product a success going forward? Hoping some magic fairy shows up and makes your competition go away overnight? Well good luck with that! I suspect that your management is probably pressing you and your product team to do some of that “innovation” stuff. Got any ideas on how to make it happen?

The Two Flavors Of Innovation

We all think that we know what innovation is, but do we really? We view innovation as being the process by which successful products get invented like the iPhone, the Kindle, etc. However, those product teams have access to some sort of magic pixy dust that the rest of us can’t touch. How are we supposed to use innovation to make our products better?

Really smart people, like Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, have taken a close look at this innovation thing and they’ve discovered that not all innovation is created the same.

What they’ve found is that there are actually two different types of innovation. The first is what we’re all familiar with: the blockbuster breakthrough thought. This is the kind of thinking that produced the iPad. Not bad – if only product managers could have these types of thoughts every day!

Thankfully there is another type of innovation. This is the incremental change type of innovation. It’s a much smaller type of breakthrough, but we have a lot more of them and they turn out to be just as important.

For you see, the blockbuster breakthroughs are built on top of a whole bunch of incremental breakthroughs. In fact, the researchers have discovered that you really can’t have a blockbuster breakthrough if you don’t have a bunch of incremental breakthroughs in order to support the blockbuster.

How To Innovate With Your Product

I can almost hear you saying, “oh great, so now not only do I have to have blockbuster innovations, but now I also have a bunch of incremental innovations…” Well, yes and no.

Instead of getting all tied up in knots about what you do or don’t have to do in order to innovate with your product, it might be simpler to implement a framework for allowing innovation to happen.

One way to do this is to look at innovations as they relate to your product as being organized in a pyramid fashion. At the base of the pyramid are all of the little ideas that are always popping up about how the product can be improved. These can come from anywhere: internally or from customers.

The ideas that are “no-brainers” need to be implemented right away. The ones that will require some time and investment, but which look promising should be thought of as moving to the next layer of the innovation pyramid.

At this level, investments are made, changes happen, and innovation starts to become apparent in different parts of the product if you look at it hard enough. Nothing revolutionary, but the product does keep getting better.

The final stage of the pyramid is the top. This is where the big ideas get kicked up to. These ideas require the product manager and the firm to make a big bet on where the world is headed. If your senior management agrees, these ideas are the ones that will create the breakthrough innovations for your product that everyone will be talking about.

What All Of This Means For You

Since you are responsible for the success of your product, you need to make sure that both you and your team keep innovating and making the product better and better. That means that you’re going to have to find ways to make innovation happen.

It turns out that there are more than one type of innovation. There are the big innovations that get all of the press and then there are the incremental innovations that are needed to allow the big innovations happen.

Product managers need to implement a framework that allows innovative ideas to be collected into a pyramid of innovation that will allow good ideas to be implemented no matter if they are small, medium, or breakthrough in size.

Innovation is a core requirement for every product – every product has a half-life and you need to be adding value to it in order to ensure its success. Use this deeper understanding of innovation to show your management and the market that your product is the most innovative.

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Finding an Innovation Strategy That Works

Finding an innovation strategy can be one of the most difficult decisions as there are so many options to choose from. While there is not a defined process for implementing or developing an innovation process that works for your unique situation there are a few things that you can keep in mind to make it easier. There are three main areas that you can focus on to spur on your innovation process – hiring and developing innovative staff, developing an internal innovation protocol, and working with strategic alliances. The best result for most companies is a blend of these four that is unique and helpful to your specific needs.

Human Resources: Hiring and developing

By far the most effective way to ensure that you have innovation throughout the life of your company is to create a process that allows you to hire and develop creative and talented people. Keeping your innovation in-house allows you to gain competitive advantages over co-creation and open innovation, and it can also give you more control over the timeline for innovation. The more staff members from different departments and seniorities that you can include in the innovation process, the more access to creativity that you can tap into.

Developing Internal Innovation Protocol: Problem Solver

While it is most effective to develop staff members that have the innovation mindset, you can also develop a process that can be successfully applied with almost any group of people. Developing an internal innovation protocol will help to innovate on problems that arise and can be a great tool in your arsenal. For best results you shouldn’t rely on this innovation protocol as your company’s only source of innovation, but it can be a cost effective strategy to get the ball rolling and a great tool to have available.

Strategic Alliances: Working Together

Forming strategic alliances allows you to leverage the creativity and innovate with people outside of your company. The major benefit is that you gain access to a number of people’s ideas and input without taking them onto the payroll. The drawback is that the competitive advantage and secrecy of your innovation is almost impossible to guarantee. With that being said there are several companies that are embracing co-creation with fantastic results and depending on your situation you may want to include this in your innovation strategy.

There are plenty of combinations and other variations to consider in your innovation strategy, but any combination of these three will cover the majority of the successful strategies. Try each of these concepts individually before you combine them as they may increase or decrease in effectiveness depending on your unique situation. Having a great innovation culture is a great place to start. If this seems too ambitious for your current situation you can start with a simple innovation protocol and innovate the solutions to your innovation culture, so that you can implement them as quickly as possible.

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