Archive for the ‘innovation approaches’ Category

The first post in this series (available here) gave a very quick, and probably superficial, introduction to what C-K Theory claims to be and to do.  Now, we need to look at some established problem-solving methods to see how C-K Theory stands up.

Creative Problem-Solving : 

CPS is well established.  The method suggests that people separate their thinking into stages such as “problem exploration”, “idea generation and selection”, “action planning”.  That sounds simple enough, until you try it with a group of colleagues.  Some people want to jump straight to finding the solution.  I call this the “Let’s get this problem out of here so we can let some more problems in” fallacy – that fastest is always best.  Others feel energised by thinking up ever more creative solutions but lose the will to live when asked to turn just one of them into an action plan.  The most difficult stage to “sell” is the idea of checking whether the problem as stated is really what the group should be tackling.  A common objection is “This is what our boss wants us to solve so it must be right”.

If exploring the question isn’t challenging enough, CPS introduces the idea that, in each problem-solving stage, people should use both divergent thinking and convergent thinking – and to make sure that they do not mix them together.

Here is one way to picture the CPS approach:

3 Diamonds modelIf you think about any meeting you have been in where the aim was to gather new ideas, you will probably recognise that a very common sequence is “someone proposes an idea; the others find all the bad points; so that won’t work;OK whos next?”.  We call this “editing ideas as you go”.  If this is your experience, you probably ended up with very few really novel ideas that withtood this kind of serial stress test.

Even more worryingly, CPS has a lot of techniques based on metaphor (e.g. cartooning, word associations), challenging mindsets (e.g. reverse brainstorming, force-fitting), and playfulness (improvisation, poetry) . . . Enough!  CPS sounds deeply uncomfortable.

But it works . . .  when you are dealing with an intractable problem or you are genuinely looking for some breakthrough ideas . . . and when, most importantly, you work with a skilled CPS facilitator who can guide a group through the different CPS stages and divergent and convergent thinking by choosing the most appropriate technique at the right moment without adding their own ideas into the pot.

Behind CPS is the idea of creating permission, time and space for people to discover unusual re-combinations of concepts, images and thoughts which then pop out from the unconscious mind.  Koestler called this process “bo-sociation”.  These so-called “ah hah!” moments, rather than being fully-fledged solutions, are possibilities which open the door into unexpected “solution spaces”.  Then the hard work of turning the idea into reality begins.

Coming soon –“C-K Theory, CPS and TRIZ #2 – What Are the Benchmarks? (part 2)


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Argenta works with a large, international engineering company to run an Innovation Programme based on developing the ability of their project teams to plan and facilitate problem-solving Boosters. The Booster approach is based on a customised version of CPS (creative problem-solving). Our client recently attended a seminar on C-K Theory – a new approach for “designing the unknown” and he asked our advice on whether it could complement what developers in our client’s labs already do. (He is always on the lookout for the next big thing!  He had done the same thing with TRIZ.) So we did a bit of research and wrote him a paper. It is good to be challenged like this from time to time. It helps put what you do into sharper focus, and you learn a lot about how others view their own methods.

So this series of posts is based on what we learned. In this first post we need to provide a “rough guide” to C-K Theory as the new kid on the block. The next post will look at what we might mean by a “problem-solving method” and will develop some benchmarks by considering two established alternatives – CPS and TRIZ. Post #3 will propose three important questions to ask of any problem-solving method and will include the answers we came up with for the three methods we looked at. In post #4 we will suggest a model for capturing the most significant differences between the methods and discuss how this helps decide which oneis right in which context. Probably some other thoughts will occur to us at this point and so lead to other interesting stuff – let’s see.

C-K Theory :
The authors of this method claim that it offers a new and distinctive perspective on the cognitive processes underlying inventiveness and design. We use inventiveness to describe the ability of the human brain to produce thoughts which cannot be logically derived from previous knowledge yet which subsequently lead to successful applications. In the context of design and engineering, inventiveness would translate into
applied creativity; that is, problem-solving insights which produce routes towards novel solutions
innovation; that is, collaborative efforts to move from an idea to a real object (or system or product) which matches a human need of some kind.
The C-K approach (see this diagram) is based on the idea that inventiveness takes place when you explore two different spaces – Concept Space (C) and Knowledge Space (K) – and involves swapping your thinking within and between these two spaces; for example, K to C, C to C’, C to K, K to K’.
Two important points are that
– K-space is the space of codified and logical past learning (stuff people already “know” or could look up) while C-space is the space of concepts (stuff which is neither fully definable nor understood in exactly the same way by everyone and which can be explored to uncover novel, surprising ideas)
– exploring a concept to uncover fresh insights occurs by expansive partitioning of that concept – adding, subtracting or substituting attributes from ideas within K-space.

This reminds us of Pasteur’s claim that “inspiration is the impact of a fact on a well prepared mind”.

C-K Theory derives from, and appears to be mainly driven by, the work of Armand Hatchuel – Professor of Management Sciences and Design Engineering, Ecole des Mines, Paris. He has a 13 minute video introducing the concepts of C-K Theory available here.

Coming soon :  “C-K Theory, CPS and TRIZ #2 – What Are the Benchmarks?

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Last week I experienced my first “Anecdote Circles” (see here for a white paper). Thank you, Ron, it was an enjoyable and fascinating experience. I see this as a form of brainstorming, but there are some interesting differences between anecdote circles and the brainstorming approaches and techniques we use from Creative Problem Solving and Synectics. Here are some first thoughts:

  • When done properly, all brainstorming should be fun. But I found this process particularly fun, energising and engaging. Why? Is it because there is sharing and/or learning taking place? Does the exercise have a particularly high “ah-ha!” factor? Is it an emotional outlet, an opportunity for commiseration, for getting things off your chest, for telling the truth? Is it an opportunity for recognition, for self-actualisation? Is it the camaraderie it generates, the feeling of all being in the same boat together? Was it just me?
  • Participants get to speak and listen to each other a lot. There is a high ratio of speaking to post-its compared to other post-it based brainstorming. Participants are only required to generate one or two post-its per anecdote.
  • You would use anecdote circles for generating lessons learned and sharing experiences rather than for generating ideas, although ideas could be a final output of a workshop using anecdote circles. Possible outputs from anecdote circles:
    • “War stories” about service delivery
    • Tips, tricks, how tos, do’s and don’ts, recommendations, ideas: knowledge shared
    • Material to start designing signifiers
    • Information about complex spaces, such as trends, weak signals, etc.
    • The themes can be used as headings for a presentation or summary or for chapters for a book on the topic under discussion
    • The themes can be used  for a gap-analysis (where we are now as opposed to where we want to be)
    • It can provide material to define archetypes for exploring culture, values, profiles, etc.
    • The high points and low points in people’s stories can provide material for inspiring speeches/stories/presentations  using the technique of contrasting worst with best, current with potential, problems and solutions, etc.
  • The best thing about SenseMaker (a suite of software applications developed by Cognitive Edge to extract patterns from the types of output you can get from anecdote circles) is that it removes the need to converge after divergence. It provides a promise of outputs, results, data, so that you can treat the anecdote circle as an end in itself, without the need to engage in horrid, mood-dampening convergent techniques.
  • In our first anecdote circle, where the objective was to generate material to identify signifiers (about which more next post), I was happy to stop after the clustering, whereas after the second anecdote circle, where the objective was to explore marketing issues, I felt the need to “do some convergence”, to arrive at a point where I had something I could “take away.” I did not want to do an action plan. I did not want to do a gap analysis. In the end, Julia suggested we quickly go around the themes and generate one or two post-its about “what we got” from each cluster. This was better than nothing, but Julia had also suggested that this would have been a good time to do a Synectics-type idea development exercise, i.e. to choose some “appealing and intriguing” post-its (of which there were plenty) and explore them as ideas, which may or may not lead to some actions. I think this would have worked well.
  • The question “what did you get from this?” helps you to actively listen and can produce a variety of types of response. (NB: it is difficult to translate this question into French and Italian.) Prompts such as “What’s the moral/significance of the story?” (the output will be moral lessons, lessons learned) “What did you hear?” and ”What’s the story about?” (people re-tell the story) give outputs that are too specific.
  • You are only supposed to generate 1 or 2 post-its per story, and use 5-6 words to express what you got out of the anecdote. I rarely respected this word limit. Sometimes I was quoting what people said. What would be the ideal output for this exercise? Why 5-6 words? You’re already constrained by the size of the post it. Synectics provides detailed instructions for generating output during a brainstorming: it should read like a “headline”, it should be expressed in positive language (whether you are expressing an idea, a concern, a reflection, etc.) and it should be expressed as a “How to…/I wish…” question/statement. This kind of output provokes further ideas, questions, reflections, etc., until you get to a point where you can start saying “what you do”, i.e. describing actions. What if you asked people to write “what they got from the story” as a Synectics-type output? Why not?

Your thoughts, responses, answers are very welcome.

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[A word of explanation about the picture. The big circle shows a network analysis of users / customers and a cluster of marketeer / business valuer, technical innovator, and UX / service designer. The yellow arrows show the interactions between this cluster and lead users to enable co-creation. The background to the circle illustrates a customer journey with touchpoints, pain points and moments of truth. The normal linear format for a journey has been changed to circular, reflecting the blurring of product, services and service. Some version of crowdsourcing is in there somewhere. ]

So, we have had Part 1: Power to the Brand, and Part 2: Power to the Process.

This is now-ish, or really-quite-soon. The surrounding ecology is complex with Web, Innovation, Enterprise, Capitalism 2.0. The 3D printing presses are rolling (not literally of course).
Users and customers were never isolated, but now they can start interacting with each other about products and services  more than they ever used to. News travels far and fast – certainly bad news.  User expectations keep going higher (thank you, Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive).
Marketing has changed its focus to Value-In-Use, and  looks at Service, not services or products. Not surprisingly Value In Use has massive overlap with Quality In Use or ‘big’ usability.    Clay Christensen, in Milkshake Marketing, says that “It’s time for companies to look at products the way customers do: as a way to get a job done”
The User Experience (UX) / service designer  interacts with clusters as well as individuals, and understands the Typology of Crowds (Nicholas Carr).  People-watching becomes netnography.   HCD becomes subsumed into User-Centred Innovation. User participation becomes co-creation.
Technical innovation draws on a global network of partners.
Table-stakes for large and medium corporations have become a formal innovation programme with metrics, trained staff and an increasing spend profile.

Bringing together the viewpoints for technical innovation, a business value, and UX / service design looks to be the next challenge. Taking a data-centric view may be the way to crack this.

Lots of questions come to mind.  Can the viewpoints have a mutually understood set of success criteria? Can they use and trust each other’s data? Will the safety element in Quality In Use expand to link with Information Assurance? Can UX people help to put a monetary value on experience changes? Can purpose branding be made to work, and to link with technical innovation? Can business models evolve to support concurrent disruptive and sustaining innovation? Can organizations provide attractors that allow the silos between these viewpoints to dissolve? The working context looks web-based, but the richness of interaction required between participants really needs face to face interaction with sticky notes. How do we balance real-world and remote interaction?

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‘Teh interweb’ arrives and brings complexity in its wake. The MSM has no effective answer to GoogleAds. The High St. under-estimates the threat of online shopping. B2B starts to build online auctions, market-places.
Marketing becomes more automated, cost-effective, and targetted (right-hand side of picture). The long tail becomes tractable. Marketing types worry over how refined segmentation and demographics might need to become.
The R&D lab has been stripped out. It makes greater use of sub-contractors and outsourcing. Faster, better, cheaper, but the same approach. What is this ‘design thinking’ they ask?
The Human Factors lab has gone. Staff are people-watching to identify opportunities for innovation, or doing useful Human-Centred Design (HCD) on real projects.  Good standards, tools, methods.  An iterative lifecycle uses personas, user trials (not experiments), remote trialling and logging, and web analytics (left-hand side of picture). Users are treated as numbers of individuals, and the interaction with users is fairly rich.  The extent of user participation is variable, but co-design is real. No perceived reason for it to be co-ordinated with marketing analysis. The staff do have a key to the R&D lab, are allowed to run workshops with techies, and get invited to meetings.
Product support has become outsourced and off-shored to a call-centre.  Customers and users listen to music and get a call number.
Corporate staff worry about how to use innovation as a discriminator rather than endless cost reduction.

A good set of interviews with Harley Manning of Forrester discuss the linkages between User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX), and help to make the bridge to where we are going in the next post.

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The heyday of old-style marketing: broadcasting to the target demographic, a short tail that is ignored, and clipboard market research.  Users are treated as a segmented collective, aggregated into statistics.
Traditional corporate R&D labs perform the product development, with all the strengths and weaknesses that they bring.  Development follows the traditional ‘V’ shaped waterfall lifecycle.
Old-style Human Factors; the scientists are busy. Actually, they are pretty fed up with being ignored.
The customers and users have real-world Dunbar numbers of social networks. Otherwise the ecology around product development and support is pretty simple.

(Acknowledgement: Thanks for the UX People Templates)

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Just discovered a great new resource. Springwise,  (@springwise on Twitter) has a network of 8000 spotters who scan the globe for smart new business ideas, and post them on their website, delivering instant inspiration to entrepreneurial minds.

I was instantly drawn to this great example of a classic TRIZ contradiction. How can we have nice open areas in town during the day but also supply toilets to prevent indiscriminate weeing in the streets at night. Solution:

Not sure what lady late night revelers are expected to do and also notice that the text reveals there are three urinals per ‘pop-up’, without doors, so this is much more European, pissoir solution. And what do you do if, in full flow, it starts to descend?

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