Groups visit Autodesk and want to talk about innovation. They come to offices like the Autodesk Gallery and ask "How does Autodesk innovate?" when what they really want to know is "How can I innovate?" In response, Autodesk has developed a presentation on this topic that involves:
- Toolset — the specific tools required for an organization to create the products, services, and experiences that it delivers to its customers.
- Skillset — the collection of "meta-skills" that all professionals need to innovate, regardless of their specific industry or role.
- Mindset — the various mental models, cultural attitudes, and ambient beliefs (often subtle or even invisible) that exist within an organization about innovation.
Some of the tools that Autodesk uses when innovating include:
- LUMA — Look, understand, and make methods for human-centered design from the LUMA Institute
- Visual Strategy — A series of 20+ diagrams intended to structure problem-solving in a systematic way
- Wicked Problem Solving — A facilitation method focusing on tools to foster clarity, engagement, and alignment
- Autodesk Internal Innovation — Getting things done via Lean techniques and entrepreneurship
- Autodesk Innovation Genome — Methods to explore, prioritize, and act on innovation ideas
That last one, the Autodesk Innovation Genome was developed right in our own group. Autodesk Innovation Strategist, Bill O'Connor, lead a group of MBA students at the Hult International School of Business and UC Berkeley/Hass to consider the 1,000 greatest innovations in human history and boil them down to their essence. In other words, Bill spearheaded Autodesk's efforts to come up with an innovation DNA — the stuff of which innovations are made. Much like the mapping of the human genome, this was the mapping of the innovation genome. The genome consists of 7 questions. They are regarded as DNA because if you ask these 7 questions with respect to an innovation target, their answers often lead to solutions that are innovative.
Here are the questions:
- What could we look at in a new way?
- What could we use in a new way, or for the first time?
- What could we move, changing its position in space or time?
- What could we interconnect, for the first time or in a new way?
- What could we alter, in terms of design and performance?
- What can we make that is truly new?
- What can we imagine that would create a great experience for someone?
To explain how Bill and the students arrived at the genome, let's look at some of the innovations studied as found in Bill's original materials. Throughout recorded history, one can find many examples of how applying the 7 questions has led to innovations.
Though fire was discovered instead of being invented, the application of fire for practical purposes (e.g., cooking, weaponry) originated when primitive man looked and saw what happened when dry brush was struck by lightning. Instead of looking at fire as something to be feared, it was looked at as something to be leveraged.
When the internet first emerged, it was used for frivolous activities like sharing pictures of cats. An entrepreneurial company then asked, "How can we use the internet to sell things?" And thusly, eBay was born.
Man's original form of communication was oral. Then one day he got the idea to move language to paper. The written word allows communication to transcend space and time. The words were the same. Only the delivery mechanism had changed.
The innovation of the bow and arrow did not immediately follow the innovation of the spear. In its day, the spear was a fairly decent weapon. But how could it be more effective? If it could be used from a distance! It only took human beings 391,000 years to think about interconnecting "things that are sharp" with "things that go boing."
The innovation of Jazz was made possible by altering the rules associated with musical performance. Musicians were allowed to dynamically improvise instead of strictly following what was on the printed sheet music before them.
Sometimes people make things that are totally new — like the transistor. Nothing like it existed before its creation. And the world has never been the same since.
Much of Apple's success can be attributed to founder, Steve Jobs, who was able to imagine a computer that would be smaller, less expensive, and easier to use.
This gives you a sense of where the questions came from. Though the team looked long and hard for the 8th question, eventually candidate questions were determined to be derivatives of the 7. This really is the DNA of innovation — the basic essence. To drive home this point, here is an example of a matrix of 49 questions that shows various variants of the prime 7.
Armed with the 7 questions as a structured way to generate ideas, the next logical question that Autodesk visitors ask is "How do I pick my innovation target?" At Autodesk, we believe there are two types of innovation:
Sustaining innovation is about things like constant improvement, reliability, scale, responding to trends, and best practices.
Breakthrough innovation is about new solutions, unexpected surprises, experimentation, leveraging trends, and next practices.
Sustaining innovation is about keeping up, while breakthrough innovation is about leaping ahead.
Selecting an innovation target to achieve sustaining innovation versus breakthrough innovation depends on where an existing product or service exists on what Autodesk calls the Autodesk Innovation Continuum.
The Autodesk Innovation Continuum postulates that every innovation in human history passes through 5 very distinct phases in the course of its evolution.
Impossible — At first, the innovation is thought to be "impossible" — meaning it simply can’t be done, or hasn’t even been conceived of yet.
Impractical — Next, the innovation enters the "impractical" phase — meaning that, while it may be technically possible to do, it’s not really a viable option for a wide range of people and companies yet, often because of the time, expertise, or expense required to make it happen.
Possible — Then the innovation becomes "possible," or widely possible. Suddenly, a dramatically larger percentage of the market/population/world can access the innovation. This is the phase where industries are formed, careers are made, huge amounts of money are generated, media coverage spikes, and the world can be changed.
Expected — In the "expected" phase, people have grown accustomed to an innovation and just expect to have it available.
Required — At the "required" phase, people really can’t operate without the innovation, but they don’t really notice it either. This is great since it means it’s become essential, but it also means the innovation has now become a commodity.
As such, when considering innovation, it is important to consider where a product or service is in its innovation lifecycle. The time to take bold steps in pursuit of breakthrough innovation is in the impossible or impractical phases of the continuum. Sustaining innovation is appropriate when something is already possible, expected, or even required.
So how could you use all this? Here are 3 examples:
- Autodesk Innovation Genome Example: How to Make Visualization Obsolete
- The Autodesk Innovation Genome: An American History Example
- The Autodesk Innovation Genome answers "Where do Autodesk Labs technology previews come from?"
Try it yourself. Determine where you are on the innovation continuum, pick a target for either breakthrough or sustaining innovation, and give the 7 questions a whirl with your next brainstorming session. Let us know how it turns out. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We welcome your feedback.
Genome mapping is alive in the lab.