A panel of design experts tackles the issue of radical innovation and how to balance innovation against market pressures.
“You can observe a lot just by watching,” Yogi Berra once said, and while that brings a smile, we know what he meant.
At the Embedded Systems Conference, I had the pleasure of partaking in the observations at an excellent roundtable, sponsored by Siemens and EE Times, titled "Radical Innovation: Ideas for Reengineering the Design Process to Make Your Company More Competitive." The moderator was Andy Butler, founder and CEO of D2M, a design firm that specializes in helping companies take designs from concept to market release through the product development, manufacturing and distribution phases. (A side note: I was impressed that D2M is willing to partner with its clients toward common success and, more importantly, to sponsor pro bono projects that help make products like low-cost infant incubators and cook stoves).
During the session, entrepreneurs and executives provided insight into their own experiences and shared their views on the tensions and trade-offs between innovation and time-to-market. The audience had the opportunity to consider the key ingredients of innovation, contrast them with the elements of time-to-market, and examine the two forces in terms of their conflicting demands and possible synergistic ties. To illustrate the last point, Andy pointed out that sometimes time-to-market pressures are a great motivator for innovating your way out of a product design challenge.
Andy seeded the discourse with some potential ingredients of innovation such as cross-functional talent, teamwork, inspiration and the willingness to take risks. He also posited as ingredients of innovation getting the product or service all the way to the market and getting the market to be receptive, while allowing that there are sometimes elements of luck involved, such as timing windows and unforeseen market trends or reactions.
The session broke into smaller groups that identified additional ways for achieving time-to-market goals and fostering innovation. On the innovation side, thoughts emerged about crowdsourcing, cross-fertilization, financial incentives, extreme feature set exploration and even team makeup (including such factors as age and cultural diversity). Time-to-market suggestions came up for crisp and limited feature sets, success metrics, rapid prototyping, outsourcing, initial tolerance for quality relaxation, and overlapping road maps to speed up the second-generation rollout. While financial incentives and rapid prototyping came up under both columns (innovation and TTM), it became clear that for the most part, each element under one heading helped the other heading; rarely were they at odds. (There was some discussion of whether small budgets spur innovation and whether large ones might accelerate or slow TTM.)
With a nod to Yogi, I did learn a lot by observing this session, and what I found is that you can innovate a lot by, uh, creating new things.
Seriously, I came away convinced that taking the time to identify the ingredients of innovation and time-to-market can go a long way toward achieving rapid innovation. And that, alone, is radical.