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Product Design Innovation

Written by Burt on 2 October 2010 No Comment

We’re hearing a lot about how innovation is a key attribute for Hawaii businesses to compete in the fast paced national and international marketplace. Businesses here are faced with the raising costs of doing business, skilled labor moving out of the state and developing countries leap frogging our capabilities. Does innovation hold the answers to these challenges? In what way does innovation take place and how do companies instill a culture of innovation?

Oceanit, the Hawaii Science & Technology Council and Blue Planet Foundation are trying to help answer these questions. On September 24, 2010, they invited Larry Shubert, formerly with IDEO and now heading up Zip Innovations to facilitate a one-day workshop on Product Design Innovation. The session was well attended with representatives from Oceanit, Referentia, Archinoetics, Blue Planet, Avatar Reality, Clearfuels, TeraSys and others. Shubert opened with a couple of ice-breaker exercises to loosen up the mind. One was to sketch your neighbor in one minute. (I can barely draw a stick man in one minute.) The other was to draw as many objects given a sheet of 30 blank circles. I came up with globes, the sun, balls, targets, wheels, donuts, smiley faces, marbles, planets and then my 2 minutes ran out. Both exercises challenged yourself to be creative without self criticism. It’s interesting how in such a short period of time you can find ways of limiting how freely you can think. The aim with Shubert’s innovation process is to free the mind, to come up with “wild ideas”.

To help the attendees with the process of innovation, Shubert shared a video from IDEO shot last year by ABC Nightline. In it, the challenge was put forth to design a new shopping cart in 5 days. It’s quite an exciting pr0cess especially given such a short timeframe for completion. And probably a foreboding of what we were then challenged to do.

Jeff Mikulina from Blue Planet Foundation then presented the challenge Hawaii faces with petroleum-based energy dependence. This challenge was further distilled down to an exercise for the class. Taking the perspective of four different individuals in the community, how would they view the energy challenge, what would motivate them to move to clean energy and given a 5-year window, what technologies might facilitate that move. The group broke up into teams and brainstormed through scenarios. The facilitators encouraged the brainstorming activity to be unfettered by judgments and preconceived notions. The groups each selected their best ideas via a method I am quite familiar with, voting with Post-its.

Finally the pièce de résistance was for each of the groups to build a mock up of their solution and role play a skit demonstrating how this technology or solution got adopted. There were some great ideas and even better acting. I took a few photos and posted them to my Flickr site but they don’t give justice to the actual presentations. Videos might start surfacing soon so keep an eye out for them.

All in all a good session but just a taste of the innovation process. The challenge now is to put this into everyday business practice. I spoke to Larry Shubert briefly after the workshop and he said,

As you know, innovation is a challenging full contact sport! It is driven by numerous factors including environment, culture, corporate support, process and team dynamics to name a few. Every company has unique needs and objectives.

Our ongoing challenge is to practice innovation on a daily basis and to see how innovation can take hold within the corporate culture. The Innovation Center at HMSA where I work engages in this everyday. We’ve got our stories to tell and you can find some of then on our website. Share your stories of innovation and together let’s see innovation take root and thrive in Hawaii.

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