The human vocabulary with millions of words is adequate to explain all expectations and experiences. However, the means to achieve same or the processes for the expected outcomes are not yet made available through the existing products. Here is a simple technique to harness the power of the vocabulary to innovate.
Borrowing from the tautogram, select any random letter that is used often in your language and start developing a list of words that you can link to the product or process you need to innovate. These words which are nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. can explain existing or desired features, functions, attributes or issues of the product or process.
Disregard any similarity and overlaps in words as a large number of words can suggest more innovation opportunities. Select the vital few and think how best you can bridge the gaps that will result incremental to radical innovations. This technique I named as innovation tautogram can be used as an individual or a group exercise.
Key Words: Innovation, Innovation tautogram, Innovation tools
Humans around the world use millions of words in thousands of languages to explain and communicate their attitudes, feelings, emotions, likings, anger, desperation, anxiety, aspirations etc. Experiences irrespective of whether they are actual or desired are already in the vocabulary in different languages but not available as actual products, features and processes. We have words to describe any unidentified flying object if seen suddenly, a creature not seen hitherto on the earth, an out of the world feeling a product can offer, a need felt etc. However, existence of such things, objects, products and features which will act as the means or the vehicle to such outcomes or ends is questionable. The challenge to the innovator is to bridge this gap.
The suggested technique will attempt to mine the vocabulary databases in a random way as an attempt to understand the gaps so that innovators will be fully engaged and exited looking ways to bridge those gaps.
Tendency to think rationally
Most of us spent years and years in learning things pertaining to our own disciplines. Therefore, our minds are trained and framed to think logically or rationally within those domains. Coming out of the box makes us feeling uncomfortable. We are afraid or not bothered to challenge things we learned at the beginning of our professions be it a concept, a principle or a theory. Rigidity is thus inherited and embedded to our thinking through this process restricting our thoughts only to compartments we are familiar with. We tend to take things for granted. Based on predefined assumptions, we come to conclusions even without proper examination of current issues.
We tend to think that it works this way only or else this is what it is meant for kind of a mentality that can compel us to continue in the same old way. You must break these mental silos and think creatively to innovate.
Break the continuity. Think differently.
A regular advice I give to my students in the MBA class is to think differently. We always respect and appreciate the work of the scholars who introduced popular concepts such as the 4Ps (Product, Price, Place & Promotion) and 7Ps (People, Processes and Physical Evidence added to 4Ps) in marketing. But, why don’t we find our own ways of defining, analyzing, exploring and exploiting things?
Trying with the letter C
What if we attempt to describe something, a product or a process, using the letter “C”? In other words, replace P with C in a sensible manner. Does it look crazy? No, it is not. You will be surprised to see the spectrum of words, the divergence, the breadth and the depth it can show us. Each feature, factor or facet can lead to an innovation opportunity. Remember the opportunities are not limited to innovations. Clustering of the words or dropping any word due to similarity is not desirable as it can limit the opportunities to innovate.
Look at the following words which came to my mind. Many words were added while compiling this article. If you had played the game scrabble during your childhood of course you will have an edge in this exercise or else you may use a popular dictionary.
Commodity, Customer, Cost, Channels, Contribution, Communication, Choice, Cosmetics, Churn, Claims, Customization, Competition, Collaboration, Core-concept, Configuration, Co-creation, Core-competence, Consumption, Composition, Chemistry, Challenges, Community, Compactness, Complexity, Compatibility, Compromise, Correction, Complaints, Cohesiveness, Connectivity, Color, Cover, Coverage, Capacity, Creativity, Curiosity, Craziness, Continuity, Covenants, Conditions, Consent, Collateral, Collection……
This list of words starting with the letter C can go further. Did you ever think that the list will exceed 40 words? If you continue to ask the question ‘why’ several times in respect of each factor of importance, you will essentially see an array of opportunities to innovate. Although, the above list is too long you may use pareto law. Select a vital few leaving the trivial many.
Let’s see whether this list makes sense and what innovation opportunities it can show to us. Think of a term loan from a bank as the product we need to innovate. Out of the above list, 17 words can assist us to see innovation opportunities.
The words are commodity (the loan or the package of credit facilities), customer (individual or entity who will be the borrower), cost (meaning the interest, commissions, penalty charges and any front-end fees), channels (not only distribution but also awareness, evaluation, purchase and after sales channels), contribution, communication, choice, churn, claims, customization, co-creation (allowing the client to join the feasibility study, packaging the loan and even monitoring/follow up), core-competence (to add more value to end users, broaden your market opportunities and make it difficult for competitors to imitate), composition ( how you design the package, structuring the repayment, long term and revolving credit, draw-down or disbursement plan etc.), covenants ( to ensure the proceeds are utilized as agreed, retain the customer interests on the project, maintain the agreed gearing ratio etc.), consent, collateral and collection (recovery process of the loan).
Instead of looking at the product in the conventional way where you rarely see room for change, the list of words through the innovation tautogram can lead to many possibilities between incremental to disruptive innovations.
Few more worked examples
We will next select few random products and letters to better understand the technique.
Example 1: Mobile Phone, Selected letter: V
Visual, Visibility, Vividness, Vivify, Verifying, Versatility, Ventilation, Vacate, Vigilance, Value, Vendor, Virtual, Vindictive, Vitrify, Vicarious, Vouch, Vulnerability, Voice, Volatile, Volume, Voltage, Vitality, Visitors, Video, View, Viable, Vibrate, Vapor, Variable, Variance
The underlined words show innovation opportunities as such features or functionalities are not yet made available. Readers may attempt to further explore the shortlisted words in a sensible manner so that innovations are possible. Does it make sense by selecting the word vigilance as a guide to improve a mobile phone? Yes. Mobile phones are yet to act with vigilance. Imagine if it has the capability to wake you up if there is a gas leak or a smoke in your house while you are sleeping. Will you like your mobile phone to give you warning alerts when you drive at high speeds? Do you expect the mobile phone to prevent you from driving when it detects that you are drunk? The list can continue.
Innovators can use other existing tools, if necessary, to guide them once few areas are short listed through innovation tautogram.
Example 2: A perfume, Selected letter: R
Reassuring, Refill, Residues, Resistance, Readiness, Recipe, Reliability, Removable, Repeat, Refresh, Restore, Reinforce, Remedy, Reduce, Recycle, Recognize, Rash, Reactive, Rank, Rapid, Rain-proof, Rack, Reasonable, Rationale
The above words can direct a manufacturer or an innovator for a new innovation space which has not been explored before. People outside the domain or any novice handling an unfamiliar product can come across exiting innovation opportunities through this technique.
From the subject example, think of adding a new attribute to the existing hair cream by selecting the word ‘rain-proof’ so that you can easily differentiate your product. Innovators may carry out a further examination by using existing techniques such as benchmarking, product clinic, KANO model etc. Innovation is a costly exercise and a careful analysis of the project before committing resources can avoid loses, frustration and stress.
Example 3: A car, Selected letter: E
Efficiency, Engine, Emissions, Effluents, Exhaust, Excitement, Endurance, Elegance, Economy, Experience, Ergonomics, Entertainment, Emergency, Emotional, Expressive, Exit, Entry, Engage, Empower, Enthusiastic, Eco-friendliness, Ego, Effect, Ease, Equipment, Escape, Expand, Experience, Extreme, Evaporate, Embed
Even if you are an automobile engineer, you may be wondering where to innovate. Innovation tautogram using the letter E has given many different directions for the innovators to explore and exploit. Some of the areas highlighted above may be already selected as focus areas to innovate. Still, using this tool you would see certain areas not yet explored.
For explanatory purposes from the above list let’s select the word ‘exit’ as an innovation lead. How does it make sense for a car where this is already taken care of with several doors? Think as an innovator. How many times you were disturbed to notice the scratch marks made by your shoes in your new car at the bottom of the door frame, scuff plate or inner door panel. This looks ugly and seen as careless usage when it comes to disposing the car. True enough that we use temporary solutions such as colorless stickers.
Isn’t this an area for innovation? Another word appearing in the list is ‘emotions’. Can your car recognize your emotions such as sudden acceleration or intermittent and unusual braking as a result of someone else’s nasty driving or your own behavior? This can be a potential area for inventions and innovations.
Example 4: A hair cream, Selected letter: S
Spreading, Safe, Skin-proof, Sun proof, Surface, Shine, Shape, Squeeze, Smell, Stiffness, Sediments, Smoothness, Swift, Self-cleaning, Sweating, Scratching, Setting, Switching, Shampooing, Shipping, Storing, Size, Smoke, Side-effects
Of the above list, think of a hair cream that is scratch proof! That means even if you scratch your head the hair cream can maintain the hairstyle intact. It looks crazy. However, a manufacturer will take the point (highlighted through innovation tautogram) very seriously as an opportunity to innovate.
Did we use any theories in developing the lists? No. Do you need to remember these words? No. This needs to be instant and you need to use instinct! Believe me. This method is simple, exciting and very powerful. It can easily match or surpass the outcome you may get using complex, sophisticated, mind boggling and costly innovation tools. I opted to name this technique as innovation tautogram. Use of one letter at a time is the key to make it a guided exercise although free thinking is demanded. Innovation tautogram is a universally applicable tool in any language. You can use this as an individual or as a group exercise such as brainstorming. Enjoy the innovation tautogram. I trust it will help you to promote incremental and radical innovations in making the world a better place to live!
image credit: america.pink/tautogram
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Shanta Rajapaksha Yapa is the Chief Operating Officer of Research & Innovations at Epic Technology Group, and a certified innovation manager from Leipzig University. He has 30 + years experience in engineering, banking and general management. Shanta is a visiting faculty member teaching strategy, technology management and international business in postgraduate programs for 15 local and international universities. He is also past president of the Software Chapter of the Federation of IT Industry Sri Lanka (FITIS), and serves the executive council of the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance (APICTA). He can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org