6 Easy Steps to Innovate any Product

This article brings the 6 step method of AULIVE. A case study of surfboard innovation is illustrating the process.

Fig. 1 Schematic of the AULIVE method

Step 1: Aim

Fig. 2 Step 1: Value and function aim on surfboard

 

The innovation value of new solutions can be measured on the basis of 4 factors: performance, harmful effects, user ease and expense. Performance is about increasing value by “more of the good”, all other factors are about adding value by “reducing the bad”, harm, burden or cost. The figures below show some typical questions during a surfboard purchase, and a Value Equation analysis of the values in surfboard patents.

Fig. 3 Typical ‘wants’ for a surfboard:

Performance [P], Less Harm [H], Better Interface [I] and Cost [C]

Fig. 4 Value equation analysis that categorises the customer ‘wants’ on basis of the 4 factors

click to enlarge

Performance: What can be better, what can be more?
This is the most evident factor to improve. It is about what the product is meant to do; its main function. A surfboard needs to surf, to glide, to balance, to steer. If you improve on the main function, you compete on performance.

Harm: What can be less damaging, less harmful?
This second focus of value creation is the reduction of harmful effects. It is about durability, reliability and safety, and addresses issues such as reducing waste, not warming up, more noiseless applications, safer or more trustworthy applications. For the surfboard this means for instance a greener board, or a softer grip surface that doesn’t scour the skin.

Interface: Can it be fewer burdens? What can be easier? What more convenient? Can we make the surfboard easier to transport, easier to attach on the car, magnetic? The surfboard may be easier to wax, to hold or carry, to connect different fins depending on conditions, easier to store, better grip to stand, lighter or smaller to transport, aesthetically more pleasing to view, fluorescent to illuminate, transparent packing to inspect the sea, etc.

Cost: What can be more economic?
Finally, and very popular in some sectors is economic innovation. Can we make the surfboard cheaper? Can we sell the components for a cheaper DIY board? Is there a different business model possible such as pay per use, leasing, sponsored or membership formulas?

The Value Equation brings structure at the start of an innovation process. It is an equation V = P – (H + I + C). Over time performance goes to perfection, harm goes to bio, harmless or restorative, interface goes to zero or self, and cost goes to free, all towards maximum function, minimum system. Get more information about the Value Equation here.

Step 2: Use

Fig. 5 Step 2 in short on a surfing process

“OUT of the BOX” is a popular saying, but what is the box, and what is out? The figure above shows the structure around the box in time and space. Take the process of surfing as the box. The surfing is here and now. Here is a place in space, now is a moment in time. Everything which is not immediately apparent here and now is out of the box.

Look at this illustration, there are 2 axes: time and space. There are four questions one can ask, two along each axis. De time axis: what was the situation before the surfing, and what is the situation after the surfing? De space-axis: What are the components of surfing, and what is the surrounding like? Furthermore, you can combine before surrounding or after components, giving you a total of 8 ‘windows’ around the box. After the windows are completed, resources can be identified. Some examples are highlighted.

Using the metal car roof, could spark an idea of a magnetic board (some small indium magnets could suffice) eliminating the need for roof rack or binders. The sand could be used to mix with the wax to provide better grip on the board (“sand paper”) the air, whilst surfing could be guided under the board to provide better sliding or less friction, as done in this example. These ideas illustrate good use of existing resources.

Step 3: Link

Fig. 6 Step 3 in short on a surfing process

The following tools will help to identify the properties and functions that link up in this product. The component analysis pool of patents on “surfboard” below, scans what best describes the surfboard.

Fig. 7 Main components of a surfboard

Fig. 8 (left) Property-adjectives and (right) function-verbs in surfboard pool

Distilling the best elements out of the above our Surfboard-DNA becomes:

Fig. 9 Surfboard DNA: property-functions of a surfboard

From the ProductDNA we can now go into two directions. Firstly, what are the products that have similar DNA, what is family? Whilst ProductDNA is a good ground for analogy, it is not subject of this article. The second direction is property variation and evolutionary potential. Which of the properties can we now vary in order to gain new benefits?

Step 4: Import

Fig. 10 Step 4 in short on a surfing process

By abstracting your product into properties and functions, we can identify what other products have similarities. The property-function set is like a ProductDNA, a starting point to find ‘family’. The newly identified similar products then act as inspiration to fuel our new concepts.

For example, just like boats are evolving in bringing air under to reduce friction link surfboards can remove air to reduce drag. Just like plans have mimicked the skin of sharks to have less friction, the surfboard could benefit from a sharkskin surface to glide.
An automated technique to find related products based on the set of property-function relations is shown here.

Fig. 11 Example inspiration from other domain

So the essence of step 4, import, is to abstract your product into properties and functions after which you identify the areas that have similar challenges to yours, and become sources of inspiration for your product innovation. Since these inspirations are existing technologies, they are often easy to implement.

Step 5: Vary

Fig. 12 Step 5 excerpts on a surfing process

Variation of properties can bring new or improved function. Varying the porosity a cavity could provide a space to put car keys. Making the board magnetic to click on the car could be a new function, etc. A standard list of properties has been proposed in the method. They are acting as measures for product and process state of evolvement.

Within PatentInspiration there is an Evolutionary potential analysis. This radar diagram gives (nominal or relative) the amount of times an inventor has gone into the direction of varying that property, given he has a claimable benefit within that change. A complete picture of an evolutionary potential is given below.

Fig. 13 Surfboard DNA: property-functions of a surfboard nominal in blue, relative in grey

Most work has been patented in the area of shape, surface, integration and fibres, logical for the surfboard or fin, as shape and surface provide the glide, grip and fibres are omnipresent in the compositions. This tool can now be used as a directed brainstorming tool. Going over every property can trigger good ideas.

There are twenty more property directions in the radar, using them as a checklist, one can evaluate, by changing this property, do I gain a customer benefit or function? Some examples innovations in surfboard are on MoreInspiration, classified by property.
A more elaborated case on this step, you can find here.

Step 6: Elect

The first 5 steps of the method can act as an evaluation of the concept/idea. An example concept is given below

Fig. 14 Example concept for step 6, illustrating the connections in the method steps.

click to enlarge

The concept brings a fully transparent surfboard to inspect the sea (like the transparent kayak by making foam with small enough pores that will not reflect light). It has air-trapping channels to reduce the drag, like boats. The shape curves are optimised for easier paddling. The fin is hard enough to cut the water but flexible enough to reduce harm. The board is phosphorescent to illuminate night surfing. It has indium magnets to click on the car. It is scented (like some fabrics) with insect repelling chemical, to make the beach time more pleasant. Finally it has a shark skin like surface (like planes and swimwear) to reduce drag.

Within the elect step, one can ask:

What is the value gained? (Step 1)
Are there new resources used? (Step 2)
What technology can be imported? (Step 4)
Which properties have changes, which functional benefits were gained? (Step 5)

The circle is complete.

By Simon Dewulf

About the Author


Simon ran several companies in the area of product and process innovation consulting, creativity software, patent research, food innovation and funding. He has a background in Material Science, Product development and creativity research at Imperial College. Today Simon is with www.aulive.com an online resource for creativity and innovation. His main area of research is the development of an artificial idea generation and problem solving software.

Photo Surfboard on Fuerteventura beach by Shutterstock.com

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