Developing a process for cross-industry innovation

My previous posts have introduced the idea of taking a product concept from an innovative industry and using it to disrupt a less innovative industry. The theory is that a concept already developed and successfully deployed in one industry, could have a radical impact on another — but be easier to deliver than a typical radical innovation, since much of the supporting structures would already be in place.

This approach could enable the producers of incumbent products in innovative industries to unlock value in other, less-innovative industries. It could also help to disrupt the less-innovative industry, unlocking additional value and helping to solve ingrained problems.

My research, as part of a Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership at the Cass Business School, explored this idea and sought to find a process for finding product concepts that could be transferred.

The proposed process combined the first two stages of the UK Design Council’s (2007) Double Diamond, Everett Rogers’ (2010) theory on the Diffusion of Innovations and Brem and Voigt’s (2009) theories on the external influences on a market.

The process matched existing product concepts in the innovative industry with needs in a less-innovative ‘target’ industry. These opportunities were then compared and the most promising opportunities selected.

Existing products in the innovative industry can help solve needs in the less-innovative industry

I based the process on the first two stages of the UK Design Council’s (2007) Double Diamond model. The Design Council describe a design process as “a deliberate series of actions, executed to create value by solving specific problems”. Based on Design Council research, the design process can be divided into four distinct phases: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver; operating over two cycles of divergent-convergent though as shown below.

The proposed process used the Discover and Define stages of the Design Council’s Double Diamond (2007)

To find product concepts that could be transferred between industries, I had to find ways to make the product concept relevant to the new industry. This means moving from an idea to a product definition and is the first half of the Double Diamond. I therefore focused on the first half of the double diamond and subsequently broke the process down into four stages as follows:

1. Set the purpose

Set a purpose, or reason to innovate, based on an existing motivation or corporate interest.

2. Discover

A phase of divergent-thought to collect knowledge of the less-innovative industry; potential innovations in the form of product concepts from the innovative industry; and knowledge of external influences that could affect the target industry.

3. Define

A phase of convergent thought that filters the product concepts by matching concepts with unmet needs; assesses the relative potential of each opportunity; and considers the impact of trends and external influences.

4. Specify the requirements

The final stage specifies requirements of the product development stage.

The proposed innovation process begins with a purpose and then combines knowledge of the target industry with ideas from the innovative industry and an understanding of external influences. Opportunities are then identified and filtered into a small number of product definitions

The first two stages are described in more detail below.

Stage 1: Set the purpose

The first stage of the process is to define the reason to try and innovate in the targeted low-innovation industry.

Boden (2005) argues that such a purpose is an essential part of the creative process and aspiring innovators should avoid a scatter gun approach. Brem and Voigt (2009) go further and say that in a corporate setting the purpose must be set or at the least agreed at a board level to ensure that there is enough commitment to the whole innovation process. This is an essential part of the process, without which the subsequent innovation will lack direction.

Stage 2: Discover

The second stage is a phase of divergent-thought intended to develop as much knowledge and understanding as possible and start to identify relevant innovation opportunities.

Stage 2A: Develop knowledge of the target industry

Characteristics of the target industry must be understood that define how the industry currently achieves certain goals (aimed at the ‘purpose’) along with the motivations for achieving them. The characteristics are defined using industry variables chosen to help differentiate innovations that are likely to succeed in the industry compared to those less likely to.

Everett Rogers (2010) developed a set of Predictors of the Diffusion of Innovations attempting to pinpoint what it was that separated successful innovation from unsuccessful ones. The proposed process adapts Rogers’ predictors and defines relevant industry variables as:

· User needs (users of the potential product);

· Market drivers (that would result in someone investing in a new product);

· Existing methods (that the innovation would be compared to);

· User trends (at an individual level);

· Market trends (the way the market as a whole is responding).

The first stage ‘sets the purpose’, and the second develops knowledge of the target industry. Five main characteristics or ‘industry variables’ are collected — existing methods, needs, drivers, user trends and market trends.

Stage 2B: Collect external influences

The second sub phase of discover is to understand the external influences which may affect the target industry.

Less-innovative industries tend to lag behind other industries. While this could be seen as a disadvantage, it can also make it easier to predict future changes by looking at what has already happened elsewhere and assessing what the impact could have on the industry in the future. External influences (often caused by other industries) can affect market demand by changing the needs and expectations of customers or the regulatory landscape — this can be described as demand pull. Industries can also be affected by innovation push, where new products and technologies invented elsewhere have an impact either directly or indirectly. Considering these influences can help to predict how the less innovative industry might change in the future.

Many radical or disruptive innovations initially fail because the market and other infrastructure such as supply chains are not properly adapted to support them. Hence disruptive or radical innovations rely on structural changes to the market beyond the core innovation. By considering the changes already happening in the wider market, this problem can sometimes be overcome.

Innovations can be pulled by market needs or pushed by new technology

Stage 2C: Identify product concepts

The final phase of the discover stage is to identify potential product concepts in the innovative industry.

The process developed used analogical thinking to question how existing products could tackle a specific question related to the purpose (set in Stage 1). For example, “How might a product like Tinder add value to the community involvement process?”. A series of similar questions can be asked that lead to a range of product concepts.

The next part of the ‘discover’ stage is to find ideas or ‘product concepts’ in the innovative industry which may be relevant to the target industry. External influences that could affect the target industry are then identified.

At the end of the Discover stage a significant amount of knowledge has been collected on the target industry, external factors that may influence and potential product concepts.

The next stage is to combine that knowledge to identify the most promising product concepts. I will describe this in the next blog post before introducing a case study used to test the process.

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The views represented in this article are entirely the personal opinions of Gareth Sumner and do not represent the organisations that he works for or is associated with.

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Boden, M.A., 2004. The creative mind: Myths and mechanisms. Psychology Press.

Brem, A. and Voigt, K.I., 2009. Integration of market pull and technology push in the corporate front end and innovation management — Insights from the German software industry. Technovation, 29(5), pp.351–367.

Design Council, 2007a. Eleven lessons: managing design in eleven global brands. London, UK: Design Council, London

Rogers, E.M., 2010. Diffusion of innovations. Simon and Schuster.

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