Innovating on Instinct


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Blythe Rees-Jones shares his four lessons for better product development. Originally presented to the YIA Innovation Forum 2013.

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  • Hello I am Blythe Rees-Jones, I am an Industrial Designer, and the creative director at Locus Research. For as long as I can remember I always known what I wanted to do. From a young age I realised I was creative. Things like art, painting, and building things seemed to come really natural to me, almost like it came through me from somewhere else. When I was about seven I realised that it was something you could get commended for at primary school.By 15, I realised design school was my calling, that this skill could get me to University, and when the New Zealand Rugby Union, my first ever real client, gave me an opportunity to design the centre piece for what has become the worlds biggest dress up party, I knew I could create a career with it. Since then, like this photo of from New York, living with creativity has taken me places, introduced me to some really fantastic people, and allowed me to work on some wicked projects.
  • Today I want to tell you a little bit about four lessons I have learned over the last ten years.Why I think innovation is an art, and why it requires good intuition and skill.I might jump around a bit, but that’s the nature of innovation – so let’s go!
  • The first lesson is that it’s great insights that create great ideas.
  • Early on, I started out as quite a typical product designer, taking an idea, forming it up and packaging it in a way that people understand. This was quite object orientated – sporting products, consumer products, rehabilitation equipment. I soon realised that to design better products you need a greater understanding of the context to be able to push the boundaries. To be more original I needed to start creating more original ideas, working with more original content – this really meant I needed to go deeper and work at a more fundamental level.I needed to start thinking like a scientist, an ecologist, an engineer, a businessman, and a person.This lead me into more advanced research and development, where I could derive rich new insights to drive and shape the creation of entirely new products and services.
  • The real lesson here is that get good insights you have to get to the source of what you are looking at or working with. What I call the coal face or A&E of your topic. Where the beat is.To do this you need to start with people. People in need.But in business the picture of people gets skewed. We are all in business for various reasons and people are central to it. What we do though is start calling people users. I am not a user; customer, client, supplier, patient, service personal. When we do this we are making a mistake. What you need to do is get out there in the thick of it and listen with your eyes. When you put yourself out there, you increase the occurance of the ‘that's funny’ moments - the two words that follow an insight.Here with Agnes, her living room and her day was the source of inspiration for one of our projects. We thought it was odd that she had all her photos right next to her chair, that her chair had a block footing around it, she had two ulcers on her leg and the phone was right there. What's the behaviour here while she is undergoing treatment? How do we improve this situation and get her mobile again?We collected several insights in 2 hours in her living room which formed a range of Big Ideas that eventually lead to the creation of a new medical therapy that won our team a medical design excellence award in America. The first slide from the top of the Empire State building was taken on the trip up there.
  • When you are operating at the source, you need to also start living like they do. Empathy is a big driver for innovation and to have empathy you need to really step out of your own shoes and step into the shoes of others and see the world from their perspective. I believe this is critical and I push for it right at the beginning of every project and then throughout the project.This is one of our teams putting ourselves in Agnes’ shoes and being the patient. On this project we spent time in hospital, we attended treatment clinics, and we ran clinical trials, all so we could gather great insights to drive our thinking.
  • Another big part of insight generation is understanding and interpreting everything you are picking up. All the various fragments of information. Insights don't just come – they come from information and the art of innovation starts with connecting the fragments and making sense of them all.To do this I try and visualise everything. I carry a note book everywhere. The soul never thinks without a picture, so get into an habit of drawing and illustrating the meaning of what you are seeing and hearing. A picture they say is worth a thousand words and it is. Without you knowing, envisioning information puts dimension, depth, and space around the important information. Our prefrontal cortex in the brain loves it because it provides a another mechanism to connect different types of information we process. This subconsciously triggers a process in your mind to resolve the structure and format of what you have drawn, called spatial memory. The chances are whenever you remember something there a high probability you see the picture in your mind of where that memory came from first. This is an innovator’s best friend so visualise everything to tap into it In this example, we did some insight generation for the NZ Inc rebrand RFP. Tourism NZ wanted to know what the world thought about us, so we opened it up and asked the world the question via social media and then visualised the info we collected. It provided some interesting opportunities but apparently that project was won by an Australian branding agency – I thought we knew where the bloody hell we are...
  • Anyway...To delineate good insights from the rest you need to design a way to clearly represent the rich information in a visual way. We as kiwis have great ideas for new projects but I don't think for do a good job at visualising them, generally speaking. This means a lot of good projects and ideas don't get funded.I will talk more about this later.The work by Edward Tufte was a real game changer for me. He pioneered a lot of early information design.
  • To start translating insights into ideas a good way to start is to simply start making. Make some quick and dirty mock ups, prototypes whatever it takes and get back out there.These early attempts aren't really about finding one idea or many ideas; they are more about helping you frame the Big Idea.
  • The Big IdeaInnovation requires a lot of investment and if you are going to take it all the way you need to know your idea is a goodie from early on.You simply can’t afford to truck along and then realise you have been polishing a lemon.What I have learn is that it’s critical to correctly frame your Big Idea. Not just a concept but the core essence.There are several ways to do this and it takes good information, imagination and gut instinct.This is a photo of a material we developed for an Auckland company. The goal was to create an advanced item of clothing that could prevent a forestry worker from loosing a limb if they had an accident. Not an easy feat, I can assure you. At first the thinking was to develop and engineer a product that would resist impact from a chainsaw: “cut proof” was the descriptor.A wee while into it we realised the Big Idea wasn't quite the opposite.With some counter intuitive thinking we framed the Big Idea around creating a material and item of clothing that could rapidly deconstruct in micro seconds. Yes, we were crazy.No we weren’t the first to invent the way to stall a chainsaw by clogging the sprocket, but we did completely innovate forestry protection by creating a new material system that blows apart. And we also had other smart ideas which could kill the ignition of the saw on proximity. Husqvarna thought it was pretty cool and took it up.
  • The second lesson is about process.
  • A good process is instrumental and you need to invest in it. Your process is your biggest asset and a key instrument to help you navigate your way from insight to market. Ideas need pressure and structure to grow. If you design your process correctly and adapt it over time, it will be responsible for setting the temperature, conditioning your culture, and driving your team.Once you have bedded in a framework that starts to work it can be replicated across different projects, often multiplying outcomes. This is why it’s so valuable.But remember, at times it will lead you and you will lead it, so always trust your instinct.If it’s too over-powering you will have blow outs and burn ups, and if it’s too light, things wont move at the speed required. And don’t confuse a developmental process with a standard operating procedure. Innovation isn’t standard so don’t try and turn it into a procedure. Big mistake.
  • We have invested heavily in our development processes and we spend a lot of time mapping the development cycle. Like Richie on the paddock, we need to know what lines to run for the different projects we take on.We do this to get a better feel for common incidences, and to hone our decision making and out intuition. For ten years we have collected this type of information for every project we have touched and we have an app coming that embodies all of this if anyone is interested. Check out we have learnt about innovation as an activity and a behaviour now defines how we structure R&D projects and how we develop world class new products from the Bay of Plenty.
  • People find it hard to understand why we can work across some many diverse industries and sectors. From one day developing medical devices and the next, say, creating advanced textiles. We can because of our process. The first thing we do on any new project is start designing the project, not the product.
  • The third lesson is really about working at the intersection of innovation
  • Work at the Intersection - Be Cross Functional Innovation is about converting time, energy, resources, people, funding, and materials into new ideas and outcomes of value. My recommendation for anyone who wants to be innovative is to work here, at the intersection between human factors, science, engineering, and art. The art of product development is putting these disciplines together, being cross functional, and it requires significant intuitive and cognitive skills to sit in the centre and direct the traffic. If you don't know what I do this is it.What I have learnt over the years in NZ is that we don't integrate these disciplines as well as we could, and the normal approach is to place a project manager at this intersection. While such PM skills are critical, here where innovation collides, this role also needs art direction.A project manager’s style is to typically approach innovation like a building. Have a plan, a budget, and a timeline (no different), yet they work with known and approved materials, to set specified and certified details and the building gets built. Right.No disrespect for builders but where innovation differs is that normally the materials you are working with are either new or you are developing these too, there may be no standards in the area because you are operating in a new space, and the plan is always changing.A conventional project management approach might get all these guys together and the project finished on time and to budget – but will it transform your business? In almost every project I have worked on there have been variations on scope, budget, and duration in order to get it right.When you are art directing innovation you are being extremely sensitive to the information and feedback you are receiving, not just information relating to progress reports, budget, and timing.
  • And finally, lesson four – the biggy:Execution is everything
  • Kiwis struggle with commercialisation. I think we do so because we are a nation of Outside Thinkers. This is why we are so good at coming up with new ideas because we live on the edge. I have learnt that commercialisation requires the direct opposite – inside thinking. You have to know how it works on the inside, the unwritten rules, and the inside dynamics.We run dry.Towards the end of our projects many often run dry of cash and resources. We are all largely SMEs, so it’s natural. This is known as that valley of death and there is little support and funding available down there.I think also, we struggle to communicate our innovations.And therefore go under-prepared and we therefore undo all the good work done to get into positionAnd perseverance is key, but it’s tough in isolation.Edison was right and persevering can be tough with distance to global markets.
  • While the first couple of points might be difficult to address, the third isn't acceptable. You see to win on innovation we first need to win on communication. As I progressed in my own career, with projects becoming longer, with greater depth of research and development, it became very clear to me that execution is everything, and is as important as the Big Idea itself. Basically we need to make our innovations look awesome. We need to take all that technical detail and translate it into something someone can draw playing Pictionary by the time the timer stops.
  • A few years ago I thought that if the projects that I work on are going to really win in the market, I am going to need to become the best at communicating the benefits of new products.  This is why visualising what I spoke about earlier is so important. You need to develop the right language and style, tone and brand. The typical approach though is to cosmetically add this towards the end, once the product is close to being ready.I am personally not so sure about this. Most of our products have had thisin from the start and it develops over the entire project. By the time we hit market, we have a look and a language that projects our product authentically. So treat communication like a product development in itself.
  • With respect to the first point about outside thinkers and the last point about perseverance, we have been playing around with this concept which I think could work quite well with our kiwi way.You see, commercialisation normally occurs towards the end of R&D. Hence the change in mindset.There are a few factors here including the public domain with respect to IP protection, which places core commercialisation activity shortly after being almost ready.
  • Preasliation, however, is out idea. Forward commercialisation deep into the R&D domain.Its a concept based on going early to market and using the market to drive R&D activities.We recently worked through a distribution agreement with a large pharmaceuticals company in Australia. During this process we got access to unbelievable real-time information. They tapped into 3000 medical outlets direct for us and supplied us all of the metrics. This is so hard and expensive to gather yourself without such alignment or partnership.With new media and the growing open source economy, you can build momentum and your tribe of prospective users now, almost before your product is ready. Our experience with it shows that that it helps backwardly apply pressure on R&D to forwardly create propulsion through to launch, therefore helping the perseverance factor. Going early may also prevent us drying out.The movie industry has been doing this for years with shorts and trailers, and software has been doing it under an agile method where the program gets developed up over time, in market.Going early has its benefits and I think this fits our way, so fingers crossed. We have started to build a suite of tools and devices that can enable this and to overcome some of these commercialisation aspects many of us struggle with. Have a think about what prealisation could do for your project.
  • Innovating on Instinct

    1. 1. Innovating on Instinct Lessons for better product development Presented by: Blythe Rees-Jones To: Innovation Forum 2013 Date: 09.08.13
    2. 2. Kiwis can fly
    3. 3. LESSON 1: Great Insights lead to Great Ideas
    4. 4. Get to the source And listen with your eyes
    5. 5. Put yourself in their shoes Feel it first
    6. 6. Envision new insights
    7. 7. Start making Huss-it out
    8. 8. Frame the BIG idea
    9. 9. LESSON 2: A Good Process is Instrumental
    10. 10. Your process is your biggest asset
    11. 11. Know your plays & run your lines
    12. 12. Start by designing your project, not your product.
    13. 13. LESSON 3: Work at the Intersection
    14. 14. Work at the intersection
    15. 15. LESSON 4: Execution is Everything
    16. 16. Why its a struggle with commercialisation: 1. Nation of Outside Thinkers It needs inside thinking 2. Run Dry We die in the valley 3. Struggle to Communicate our Innovations So not prepared 4. Perseverance in Isolation is Tough The isolation factor
    17. 17. To win on innovation we need to win on communication
    18. 18. SUMMARY 1. Great Insights lead to Great Ideas Put yourself the shoes of real people and dial in your intuition 2. A Good Process is Instrumental Invest in yours – it’s your biggest asset 3. Work at the Intersection Be cross-functional and art direct all disciplines 4. Execution is Everything Win on communication and make it look awesome.
    19. 19. CONTACT: FOLLOW: @locusresearch BLOG: Thank you.