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inCONVERSATION with Mike Newnham

Discussing the predictability of innovation

By its very nature, innovation is about trial and error. Taking an idea, or a concept and reaching out to the market to determine if it has merit. If it gains any traction then the traditional process is to rapidly iterate until widespread market adoption is achieved.

That myth was shattered after WINN spent a few hours in the insightful company of Mike Newnham, Managing Director of Red Curve, a company who assists businesses as they take their innovative products and services to market, not through trial and error, but through a proven process they refer to as the ‘predictability of innovation’

…through a proven process they refer to as the ‘predictability of innovation’…

Mike started his career in materials science, moving on to that legend of British Engineering, Rolls Royce, where he was part of the team working on gas turbine engines. From there he has a brief stint in Switzerland, returning to the north of England where he took a role working on the concept of decentralising power systems.

His solid engineering background and a self-confessed curious nature merged when he was introduced to TRIZ, a problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool whose roots emanate from Russia.

More commonly referred to as ‘the theory of inventive problem solving’ and sometimes referred to as TIPS, it is widely used to study patterns of invention in global patents. Mike and the team at Red Curve apply the concepts of TRIZ to innovation. 

…as they have to overcome entrenched thinking in organisations…

"A good example of TRIZ is how it uncovers corporate antibodies", Mike explained, adding, "a corporate antibody is the resistance found within an organisation to change". This concept will be familiar to all innovators as they have to overcome entrenched thinking in organisations in order to validate that their innovation has merit.

The example Mike gave was of the Kodak organisation, who for a period of time 'owned' the photography market. "They knew that the future of photography was digital" Mike extols, "In fact they had developed and trialled digital cameras, however their business model was so reliant on selling films and other associated photography consumables that the corporate 'antibodies' killed it off, leaving the market for digital camera and digital photography open to new insurgents". As we all know, Kodak is now a very minor player in the field of photography.

The story of Kodak, and they are not alone in missing out on innovation, can be plotted on an S curve, hence the name Red Curve, and if looked for these can be found in all markets.

"An S Curve can tell when a product is moving between generations", Mike explained, "Take the concept of video rental. There were shops that had a limited number of titles, but as the Internet grew streaming services took over that market. The incumbents at the time dismissed, at their peril, these innovative new startups, allowing them to dominate a second-generation market". 

…the incumbents at the time dismissed, at their peril, these innovative new startups…

"It's pointless to set performance targets when a business is at the top of an S curve, this is when they need to innovate and determine how they can take that leap, to the next generation. They need to look for dynamisation", Mike skilfully explains. "This process, this pattern is plain to see. It starts at immobile - where a product is fixed, moving into small amounts of flexibility known as single joint, and multiple joint. From here it moves into being completely flexible. The next stage takes it to a metaphorical gas like state, where it appears to be wide areas of use, moving finally into the final stage of being totally ubiquitous, or the field stage. All of these stages can be uncovered when applying TRIZ and thus allowing innovators to determine a product road map"

Without doubt Mike makes a compelling argument for the predictability of innovation and has many, many examples of how this theory is proven. Names such as Samsung, Tesla, Apple pepper these discussions. As do products as diverse as pizzas, washing powder and plastic waste. 

"The market always drives towards an area of ideality, where you have the perfect balance of price, availability, functionality and ease of use. All of which can be predicted. However, I must just caveat that with 'within small margins of error"

Mike and the team at Red Curve make a highly compelling case for the application of their theories and skill sets. All underpinned by extensive experience within industry. Innovators everywhere would be wise to seek their counsel as they take their first few tentative steps towards launching a new product or service.

"What is going to be the next big thing? What innovation can WINN launch onto the unsuspecting public of Worcestershire that will revolutionise the county", we pose to Mike.

"I think the next big revolution is in food. Industrialised animal agriculture – having been dominant for the past 70 years - is without doubt at the top of its S-Curve. The environmental damage, energy inefficiencies and health impacts are opening the door to a new S-curve based on plants. We are seeing hundreds of millions of dollars of Silicon Valley tech investment going into “clean meat” and plant alternatives to meat, eggs and dairy. We are also seeing the meat and dairy industry itself investing in these start-ups. This transition seems inevitable to me –it is inherently cheaper, healthier and more environmentally friendly. I think the agricultural heritage of our region is well placed to take advantage of this, and the WINN community should collectively seize this enormous opportunity. It is incredibly exciting, and comparable to the changes going on in renewable energy, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things."

So all we need is an idea; an innovation. Maybe someone in the WINN community has one that they can bring to market with the assistance of Red Curve.

If you would like to find out more about Mike and the work of Red Curve then visit their website at : theredcurve.com

 

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WINN brings innovators together, acting as a catalyst to create connections and collaborations across the diverse business landscape of Worcestershire.

Our belief is that great things can happen when people get together.

WINN is a Worcestershire Innovation Programme formed by Worcestershire County Council and the Worcestershire LEP

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