A few weeks ago I attended a workshop by SRI International called the Five Disciplines of Innovation. SRI International is one of the world’s largest and most successful research institutes. The computer mouse, the first internet transmission, and the HDTV standard are all innovations that came from SRI.
SRI was founded by Stanford University to support economic development and innovation in Silicon Valley, back when the local area had more fruit orchards than tech companies. Since its beginning, SRI has earned over 1000 patents for various inventions.
Around 2200 people work at SRI, and the goal is to make major contributions to society. SRI today has various locations around the world, and has various research groups that focus on topics that are defined as “important” instead of just interesting.
This idea of defining what is important instead of just interesting, which SRI calls “value creation,” is key to their mission. Part of their approach is to spend time developing a “value proposition,” which is a unique approach to developing pitches and proposals which is unique. The approach is called “NABC,” which stands for asking and answering questions about the need, approach, benefits for cost, and competition related to the innovative idea.
In the workshop, we learned about how in most pitches and presentations, people tend to focus primarily on the approach, talking about how something is going to be done. SRI’s approach emphasizes focusing on the need first, and making sure that you present this first, and that it is quality information. Really examining the need of an idea is helpful for you to examine your idea, and your presentation will be stronger to others. Part of developing need research is researching the user/customer which might include interviews, literally following your customer around for a couple of days, doing market research, etc. At SRI, a team member might fly to Japan for a few days in order to observe customer behavior, or do in-person interviews.
Part of SRI’s approach is to work on a value proposition, pitch it to others, get input and then reworking it. At the workshop, we learned that it is not possible to get a pitch down right away and at SRI, it is not uncommon to revise a value proposition up to 40 times!
Our pre-work for the workshop was to prepare a one-minute pitch of a project or idea talking about need, approach, benefits per cost and competition. We presented these pitches at the beginning of the workshop. Most of us took more than 2 minutes (even up to 4) to present. In the workshop we broke up into groups, and then did team work creating fuller value propositions for someone’s project or idea.
The teams did presentations twice, and each group reworked the value proposition twice during the two days. It became clear that the more that research about need was done, the better a case could be made for supporting an idea or project. We also learned that many innovative ideas start out as one form, but end up being something used for something completely different.
A common problem at companies and institutions is that there is no language and framework to evaluate and give input on ideas and pitches. SRI developed a dynamic and useful way for presentations and input, called “Value Creation Forums.” These are forums when individuals or a team give a presentation of an idea using the NABC format, and then get input. Key to this is having people at various areas and levels of the company being part of the process. The presentations are a continuous process. A presentation might be given to various groups over and over, refining or changing it each time.
Some rules and roles are created for the forums, and there is a facilitator who keeps the presenters and critiques directed.
Some of the rules used in a Value Creation forum include:
- Before the presentation, some colored hats are given out to people. We had 2 green hats – and people with the green hats were to give input on what was working and successful in the pitch.
- Two red hats were given out, the individuals wearing the red hats were to give feedback on what could be improved, what might be missing, added, etc.
- Two white hats were given out – and these were to be individuals role-playing and trying to see the presentation as the decision maker or person who would fund or make the final decision to implement the idea.
- Two pairs of pink glasses (without lenses) were give to 2 people. People with these were to be the customer or user.
- The facilitator makes sure that everyone knows their roles, and keeps time for the presentation. Two people take notes for the presenter/team.
- The presenter presents and everyone claps at the end of the presentation.
- The feedback is given by the green hats first, red hats second, white hats third, and pink glasses last.
- After this – anyone can give comments and feedback. All feedback is to be constructive criticism, and not in the You should, or I think.. point of view.
- After each presentation, the hats and glasses are passed on – so that everyone gets a chance playing various roles.
In the workshop I was in, there were various professors and staff from Case Western Reserve University from various fields that included nursing, engineering, English, Biology, and other areas. Through the format of the forums, everyone was able to have a common language for giving input, and also as a group it was fun and dynamic.
During the workshop, we created teams and each team worked on developing one idea that was presented at the beginning of the workshop. There were two value creation forums done, and it was interesting to see how the presentation improved and communicated better going through the two value creation forums.
I am currently reading the Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want book written by Dr. Carlson and by Dr. Bill Wilmot. I also plan to participate and facilitate some Value Creation Forums with individuals from the workshop in Winter 2013.
I also have priced out the red, green, and white hats – so I can get these in the near future and do Value Creation forums in my classes and community.
Five Disciplines of Innovation Workshop by SRI International, at Case Western Reserve University
Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want book
Interview with SRI International President – SFGate