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  • The Five Hottest Innovation Tools

    Robert B.Tucker, The Five Hottest Innovation Tools

    In 25 years in the innovation field, I’ve seen a lot of innovation tools come and go. Let's face it, tools are trendy. They get introduced with great fanfare at conferences or in the Harvard Business Review. A high profile company or two starts touting the tool. A case study gets written up. And then, often as not, the tool gently fades away.

    What seems to gives a tool staying power is its usefulness. Brainstorming is a tool with staying power. It was invented by an ad man in the early '40s and is still popular today, why? Because it works. If you and your group need to shake up your thinking, if you need to consider more alternatives, brainstorming works. If you follow the "rules" that is (appoint a facilitator, don't analyze during the session, go for quantity not quality, etc).

    Not long ago I gave myself the assignment to report to you on the top innovation tools trending now. My team and I looked at ideation tools, commercialization tools, idea management tools, selection tools. There's no lack of tools out there let me tell you. 
    The ones that bubbled to the top of the list are below. But I cannot vouch for their staying power. Only time will tell. Only practitioners like you will determine that by which tools you continue to use over time to do your work.

    So after you’ve digested this list, I’d truly like to hear what tool(s) are working for you.  Which ones have you tried and found wanting? What's your all-time favorite? Please complete this 50 second Innovation Tools Survey click here). Here are the five:

    1. Lean Startup Movement: Bringing Silicon Valley Inside Your OrganizationGeneral Electric’s recent adoption of this tool is reported to be the biggest thing since [former CEO] Jack Welch embraced 6 Sigma in 1995. Originated in Silicon Valley as a process mapping system for tech startups today it is increasingly being adopted by multinationals looking for the next big thing. Similar to the Business Model Canvas tool (see below), Lean Startup addresses the most pressing question innovation practitioners face: How do you get new things done faster and cheaper in today’s world of strangulating bureaucracy, rising costs, fickle customers and 6 Sigma dogmatism? The answer, according to Lean Startup evangelists, is: instead of heaping money on ideas, be stingy. Encourage everybody to think.

    2.  Ethnography: Use This Tool to Discover Your Customer's Emotional Hot Buttons While focus groups ask, ethnographers observe. While focus group participants lie, ethnographers reveal. Trained ethnographic researchers (think Margaret Mead in New Guinea) at Google, Intel and IBM observe consumers where they live, work and play, searching for insights into their subconscious, unmet and unarticulated needs. By gathering qualitative data, ethnographers help businesses uncover hidden opportunities, and spot problems consumers.

    3.  Open Innovation: A Tool for Expanding Capabilities by Partnering with Outsiders With global R&D budgets declining in real dollars over the past decade, partnering externally with suppliers, universities, and other entities has become the tool of choice for a growing number of organizations. Open innovation (the term was coined by U.C. Berkeley professor Henry Chesbrough) came to prominence when Procter & Gamble adopted the methods with their pioneering Connect and Develop program. Today, over half of the firm’s new product ideas originate from outside the company.

    4.  Design Thinking: A New Tool for Creating “Insanely Great” ProductsWhat’s the difference between a MacBook Air and a HP desktop PC? Superior design! And that’s the goal of this increasingly popular tool: to help developers create products and services that are aesthetically attractive and user-friendly, and make competitive products seem dowdy by comparison. AirBnB used design thinking to connect emotionally with its customers and begin its meteoric assault on the lodging industry. Philips Electronics uses its design thinking unit to give cache to a once-fading brand.

    5.  Business Model Ideation: Use This Tool to Start Thinking Like Steve JobsNestle’s Nespresso machine-and- coffee pod breakthrough is a business model innovation on par with King Gillette’s invention of the razor and replaceable blades model of 1904. Ditto Apple’s iPod/iTunes business model, which revolutionized the music business. Netflix put Blockbuster out of business by introducing videos as a subscription service. As new products can be copied faster than ever, business model innovation (the systems, revenue model and value added services surrounding your offerings) has risen in importance. If you want to discover a new model for your industry, this family of tools can help.

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