Imagine this scenario: You have taken on a major R&D project that is core to your company’s future. Your charge is to create a new class of drones, and to launch them ahead of competitors.
But in the effort to get these drones to market, it’s easy to move too quickly, and have them be among the estimated 90 percent of product launches that fail. How do you build in the confidence and care that you need while still winning the race to disrupt your market?
Developing an Iterative and Open Process
The new strategy of Open Design Thinking, which combines two well established innovation methods, helps R&D teams innovate more deliberately while still accelerating the go-to-market process. The first method is Design Thinking—a human-centered, iterative, and intentional approach. Working with a cross-disciplinary team (marketers, industrial designers, etc.) the process involves walking in prospective users’ shoes, generating creative ideas from these experiences, and building several “minimum viable product” prototypes—which are repeatedly tested by users and refined before any products are commercialized.
The second method, Open Innovation (OI), produces another kind of insight. By tapping a worldwide community of scientific and technical experts across industries for pre-existing technologies, companies accelerate development while benefiting from “managed serendipity”. For instance, a major food company was able to formulate a lower-salt chip using a process developed to study osteoporosis.
Combining the two processes of Design Thinking and OI provides a sustainable method for creating new, revenue-generating businesses, and launching them faster. Following are several best practices of Open Design Thinking to help maximize its effectiveness.
Getting Close to Your Users
On a mission to reduce traumatic brain injuries–whether in sports, on the battlefield, or in civilian life–the National Football League, Under Armour, GE, and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institutes of Technology and Standards (NIST) have put the principles behind Open Design Thinking into action. Their Head Health Challenges have not only offered prizes to scientific and technical experts with actionable solutions; they’ve attracted “athlete scientists,” military specialists and others who want to put their firsthand experience to good use. Solutions for the Head Health Challenge II, for instance, ranged from a helmet from the Army Research Laboratory with rate-dependent tethers, to an underlayer for synthetic turfs from Viconic Sporting.
Design thinking requires more than surface insights from users; it requires detective work to uncover the issues that influence these products. There are many ways to do this, such as having users write about, photograph, or video themselves using a product. Or be a “human guinea pig” yourself. What attracts you to a particular product? What are the core benefits that make you want it? If you change the color, texture, size, brightness or some other characteristic—even slightly—will it become “cooler,” easier to use, make life better, or solve a longstanding problem? Whether you’re innovating for consumers or business users, you need to look at every angle of the product/user equation.
Eventually this up-front observation will lead you to brainstorm ideas, turn them into concepts, and then build several prototypes to test them. This is where OI can be particularly valuable. GE, for example, held an Innovation Contest—a form of OI—to develop a more ergonomic circuit breaker handle, and by challenging a diverse group of designers to re-envision the handle they cut development time in half.
But Open Design Thinking doesn’t end there. The process continues as companies get prototypes into the field for testing and feedback, make improvements, re-test, launch to progressively larger markets, and eventually reach the national or international stage.
High-stakes projects that fail are everyone’s nightmare. Open Design Thinking provides more “proof points” and a faster path to solution that turns these initiatives into impactful products before the competition blinks an eye.
Andy Zynga, Ph.D., is CEO of NineSigma (www.ninesigma.com), a leading global innovation company that helped pioneer the practice of open innovation. Contact him at Zynga@ninesigma.com or @NineSigmaCEO.