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Which innovation practice will work best for you?

This is the question that Dave Blakely and I covered in a recent discussion. Dave mentioned that there are four important and overlapping perspectives on innovation in the Silicon Valley:

  • open innovation
  • disruptive innovation
  • design thinking
  • The lean startup


I/ Introducing Dave Blakely

Dave Blakely Mach49 - The Innovation and Strategy Blog
Dave Blakely Mach49 – The Innovation and Strategy Blog


Dave Blakely helps mach49’s clients build businesses at the intersection of emerging technologies, business opportunities, and customer needs. He joins mach49 from IDEO, where he was Director of Technology Strategy.

Dave’s client work involves helping “intrapreneurs” to:

  • find new and disruptive ways of doing business
  • deliver innovative products and services to the market
  • foster a culture of innovation to maintain market leadership


Dave helps global companies understand how attributes of Silicon Valley culture can transcend political borders and organizational charts. Of particular value for many of these clients is Dave’s knowledge of emerging technology from Silicon Valley startups. He enjoys engaging with small interdisciplinary teams of clients to build businesses that were not imaginable five or ten years ago. Magic happens when mach49 teams foresee the implications of unexpected technical advances and visualize entirely new opportunities. Dave lives for these moments.


II/ A bird eye’s view on significant innovation practices

  • Open innovation aims at harnessing resources, talents and technologies that exist outside the company to create new products and services. Open innovation, which helps organizations move beyond purely internally focused innovation, was first experimented by IBM when Lou Gerstner encouraged his R&D teams to innovate with clients.
  • Disruptive innovation aims at developing new products and services that redefine the performance metrics that incumbent players are competing against. In other words, disruptive innovation changes the performance metrics that define the structure and processes of an established business. An example of disruptive innovation is Nintendo’s Wii, a video game console, which involves not only a joystick but engages the gamer’s body in the game.
  • Design Thinking focuses on understanding latent desires to design and develop something that focuses on the needs of human beings, coupled with the requirements of business and the possibilities of technology. The computer mouse is an excellent example of Design Thinking innovation.
  • Finally, the lean startup is and innovation practice that focuses on interacting with consumers all along the innovation process. It stresses the importance of learning and discovering rather than executing a proven business model, and on implementing « pivots » to plans based learning from the field. Amazon’s website is an excellent example of lean startup innovation. The site is always changed and adjusted in order provide the best consumer experience. These changes are based on every single consumer according to behavior.



III/ Finding the right innovation practice

Corporate culture calls for a unique mix of the « big four » innovation practices rather than a single approach, according to Dave Blakely. The job of an innovation consultant is not to force a particular innovation practice into corporate culture but rather find a mix that is the best fit for the client.

Dave believes that there is no single recipe to make innovation happen. Some companies will do fine in applying the lean startup innovation practice. Other companies feel more comfortable with design thinking.


Generally speaking, capital-intensive companies prefer design thinking over the lean startup simply because the lean startup implies to keep changing the product offering that is hardly possible in capital-intensive industries like aerospace, biotechnology or pharmaceuticals. Capital-intensive companies are often drawn to Design Thinking to develop a deeper understanding of their stakeholders and develop new products and services in response. Dave mentioned the example of the Design Thinking Corps at John Hopkins in charge of improving sailor’s experience with periscope for submarines. Existing periscopes joysticks costs over $120,000 and are quite weighty. Going through the design thinking methodology, Dave and his clients at Johns Hopkins replaced the existing system with a commercial Xbox joystick. The Xbox joystick provides the same functionality as the periscope at a tiny fraction of the price.


Then, we talked about what would be the next innovation playground.


IV/ 3-D printing is the next innovation battlefield


Dave and I drew an interesting analogy between the iPhone and what could be the innovation platform of the future: 3-D printing. As Dave said, the iPhone is not just a phone. It is a general-purpose platform whose personality can be changed via software downloads. People use it for all sorts of other reasons:

  • they listen to music
  • they watch videos
  • they check out directions
  • they look for restaurants, and much more.



What Apple has created is a platform onto which third-party developers create applications that bring value the consumer. So this begs the question: what will be the next technology platform that will hosts future innovation?


Dave believes that 3-D printing is a credible candidate. As rapid prototyping technologies emerge into the mainstream, a significant business trend will appear as well. The last word on new products is no longer in the hands of the manufacturer. Physical products will be modified through 3-D printing based on individual preferences.


Dave expects two initial phases as this platform ramps up.

  • Digital Advances:  Open-source platforms, like the Microsoft Kinect, coupled with a global pool of software developers, will support multiple functionalities to an existing object. For example, in the future, software developers may develop apps for joysticks to do more than just play video games such as flying a drone, driving a car, moving a submarine periscope, and more.
  • Physical Advances: 3-D printing will enable physical platform innovation. At this point, the end consumer will make tangible changes the physical product. For example, a joystick may be designed a certain way to fit an average human hand. But a specific consumer will have a slightly different hand and may want to make minor adjustments to the shape of the joystick. Ready availability of scanners, 3-D software, and 3-D prototyping tools will make such customization frequent in the near future, Dave believes.





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