This is the second in our series of the how to of Adaptive Innovation – moving from insights and product abstractions to transformative commercial platforms and their specific products. As we’ve noted before, context is king. No context – and the insights that come from that – and ideation is a waste. It’s likely incremental. You just don’t get the big stuff, the game changers. The transformational platform that upend industries. Trends, Needs and Insights Deliver Context In our experience companies that persistently succeed simply create powerful, easily communicated context and when they do they communicate it well everywhere. In fact, open, honest and free communication pervades the entire organizational infrastructure inside and outside. When these firms have success, they share it aggressively. They freely share information and allow free access to it. Customers, partners and suppliers are persistently, continuously engaged to maximize insight and idea development. All of this together maximizes the likelihood of trends being noticed, complex trends interactions being gauged for opportunities and the context then provided for generating the best and most actionable insights and ideas. More simply – Context first, strategic direction and business cases second followed by the ideas. All of this must be persistent – there are no defined times to do this…indeed it’s a never ending effort periodically delivering powerful, positive, profit generating impact. So what next? Ideation. Real Ideation. The fun, exciting stuff. Contexted Ideation is Innovation In this never ending activity web, generally after trend analysis, needs and insight development and analysis, we can move to real ideation. Ideation without context is usually a waste save to the consultants who purvey it. The aforementioned activities are continually delivering detailed, scenario based context. It’s within these paradigms, these potential realities that scenario based ideation can be conducted versus wild ass, literally random activities where 3M thrives in the millions of Post-It Notes that die on the walls of corporate America. We see two general, continuous activities derived from developed insights that we call innovation: Abstract Ideation Specific Ideation Ideation is what we at Elemence actually call “innovation”. Why? The 1937 Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, put it this way:  

“Innovation is seeing what everyone else has seen but thinking what no one else has thought”

  Its context that drives how we view our world, it’s challenges and opportunities. Even if we are not aware of that it’s there none the less. Cultures are the ultimate reflection of accumulated context for a nation, it’s people or a demographic. Understanding the context through which not folks view their world but also how that world may be changing and how others and even your firm can influence said change is a key to the varied futures and understanding their likelihood for becoming real. That’s Albert’s point – when you can see things from highly varied vantage points, you and your team, or others provided the right circumstance and information may view their world with same basic information but in a way no one before ever conceived. As noted in our last article, effective, great ideation derives from all activities, including those below, being organizationally pervasive and engaging with all sharing in rewards. These activities must be led by the C-level not by edicts and charts but by pervasive personal communication and connection. All suppliers as best as possible and customers and other stakeholder need to be involved. This is not a closed, in-house effort nor is it confined from boardroom and secret executive retreats, reports and meetings. It’s no place for egos. Abstract Ideation Considering the latter points and the need to see things as not before seen, we like to step from context and insight not into specific product manifestations or ideas, but rather into abstracted ideas. Abstraction helps to keep paradigms and dominant views at bay while still keeping harsh reality in the picture. Effective ideation abstraction leads to massive, high impact ideation that s often rapidly reduced to practice and profit when the moment is right. An example would be how Uber and Lyft and their offspring came into being. When one simply abstracts that folks want to get from point A to point B they can choose a myriad of ways and they quickly get broken down by distance. Cars for short trips not walkable for any reason where storage costs are very high for example lead one to not want to own a car. If it’s not on a bus route – we do not want to walk – we can rent someone else’s car. We also can abstract that we’d like to know who the driver is, their reputation, pick a grade of vehicle and so on. We want a fair and often the least price for said grade. By looking at things this way and switching to what business model works, one might ask where do we as the ride business get the cars? One could buy them or one could rent cars as well to minimize cash. In fact, we don’t want to rent any differently than the rider. Well, how do we do that. You get the point – you get Uber not only using other folks’ individual cars, but cars that they pay for and drive and use only when they want to give rides. No employees, no owned vehicles and the liabilities or investments for vehicles. Hell, we can deliver people and things, from food to packages. Its abstraction that gets us there but it goes farther. 30 years ago this would not have been possible but someone could still arrive at the concept. This where the what must be trues from abstraction emerge versus a highly specific model where they do not. So….in addition to now owning cars, etc…, how can we handle communication, comparisons, rating and logistics like what cars are on and not and where are they? You might list these “what must be trues”:
  1. We don’t own cars
  2. We use other people’s cars
  3. We manage logistics and the communications and take a cut accordingly
  4. We and our customers need to know where the cars are in real time 24/7
  5. We need to know how to conduct transactions everywhere in real time
  6. We need to provide reviews in real time
  7. We need to provide customer choices in real time
While not everything, one could see that in 1987, you might get to points one through 3 easily and after that things get manual and dicey and complex. Still, if you know what you want, you can begin to look for technologies that might enable these unfulfilled what must be trues and pounce when it makes sense. Had the taxi, limousine or rental car firms done this in 1987 and watched for how to disrupt themselves and deliver a better product maybe they could have become Uber themselves. Sadly, this rarely occurs. Today there is literally no reason why it cannot. Abstraction in our view keys transformative innovation and it’s those who do this “memories of the future stuff” with abstracted specification that win more often than not as Arie De Geus wrote in the Living Company back in 1997. Specific Ideation Once one has this repository of abstractions and what must be trues, one can begin to find the likely technologies by getting far more specific, more granular. What ways can we find a car anywhere? Is it through the car or another device? GPS was around but not yet inexpensive. In the early 90’s we had cell phones, in the late 90’s we had the iPod, so we could have non-car devices but WIFI was not yet big. What signs would there be of inexpensive WIFI? PDA’s could communicate? Why not locations? This is where we can begin to see what specific manifestations need to be true and where we might find them in other’s emerging technologies and products. We can literally imagine to Nth detail what the specifics may look like. We did this for Sirrus ( over the last almost decade – our founded firm with the super green, clean and sustainable chemistry. We first abstracted the specifications – no heat polymerization, no solvents needed, fast but tunable speed, infinitely variable, could be bio-sourced eventually. We then went specific to look for what chemistry might enable this – likely a base catalysis like cyanoacrylates but without an uncontrollable chemistry where convention al chemical concepts and processes could be adapted to allow for raid scaling and formulation of products like paints, coating, adhesives and the like. Without getting too boring, we were able to take a few specific scenarios and when we serendipitously came across methylene malonates in other over specific applications, suddenly realized what they really could be used for. Now a chemical revolution is just beginning that will transform manufacturing as we know it. The What Must Be Trues We’ve talked a bit already about these “what must be trues”, but here’s a bit more. First, “what must be trues” derive from the context – the insights that allow for the abstracted and innovative ideas – the real innovation. What must be trues are like regular product specifications, but are more abstracted. It’s not about 2.65”: and this specific blue. What must be trues involve everything – from economic realities, to the business model and it’s required specifics to the technology collective required, the manufacturing, the regulations and so on. This can start as simply as “The FDA will easily approve this” which indicates likely exhaustive existing, indicative data down to the specifications for a real product we are already familiar with – we must meet CFR xxxxx and yyyyy with data that looks like A and B. All too often the jump is right to what we know versus the abstracted what must trues. This gets at the why of the taxi failure – the specific rules and regulations, government and internal to the industry precluded and obfuscated the real required specifications. Think about – not one single taxi firm thought of the Uber concept – not one. Using existing roles, paradigms and knowns more than not are hindering not helping our futures. What must be rues can be derived from scenario and role playing, acting it our, developing story lines and abstracted consumers. These techniques are rarely used save in some of the the leading consumer product companies and industrial design firms, like IDEO and smaller firms of excellence, like Bally Design ( Such ideas build upon the work of story telling, complexity theory and scenario building experts like Dave Snowden’s group of Cognitive Edge ( Story telling and role playing best reveal the things we simply don’t notice until we are “there”, in the moment. It reveals complexity and interactions not expected. Specificity lives here and it’s the abstractions and contexted what must be trues that help to have that feeling of affirming déjà vu. What must trues, much like specifications, at each stage help us to uncover first what we need and what it should look like but then ability to identify the pieces from a myriad of places that fulfill those what most trues to lead us to practical product development and commercialization. Product development and commercialization under these circumstances have a vastly higher degree of success with minimized resource utilization and exemplary corporate, supply chain and customer engagement. The company thrives. Summary Persistent and repeatable, even predictable innovation can happen but it starts with context, trends analysis and scenarios and then needs analysis with all three delivering insights. This must organizationally pervasive and engaging with all sharing in rewards. These activities must be led by the C-level not by edicts and charts but by pervasive personal communication and connection. Insights lead us to persistent, real innovation, first abstractly and then specifically, with what must trues developed and refined through rigorous story telling, scenario building and business modeling. What must trues, much like specifications, at each stage help us to uncover first what we need and what it should look like but then ability to identify the pieces from a myriad of places that fulfill those what most trues to lead us to practical product development and commercialization. Our next article in this new series? The actual process of “invention” – taking great insights and innovations and turning them into reality by developing and or acquiring the what must be trues that are required for commercial success.  

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