Thursday, April 11, 2013

Highlights of “Systematic Innovation” workshop for technical experts

I facilitated a 2-day workshop on innovation for technical experts at Hotel Grand Mercure, Bangalore last month. The participants were Senior Engineers, Architects, Product Managers, Engineering Managers and entrepreneurs. I have been facilitating such workshops for the past six years. However, this workshop stood out for following 4 unique things.

Challenge book from technology-trend: Unlike in the Design Thinking workshop where we build a challenge book through “pain”, we began our challenge definition journey from technology trends (“wave”).
Each participant identified a technology trend (s)he is excited about and then mapped it on the Gartner’s hype cycle (See the picture). Some of the trends that showed up were: brain-computer interface, geriatrics (early phase), Big Data (peak of inflated expectations), Video analytics (trough of disillusionment), cloud computing (slope of enlightenment).

Then each participant did a secondary research and made a presentation on: (1) What makes the trend interesting today? (2) What were the breakthroughs for the technology trend? (3) What are the key challenges? (4) What adjacent skills do you possess?

Prototyping through storyboarding: During this session, participants explored various forms of early stage prototyping. One such form was storyboarding – perhaps one of the simplest form of prototyping. Each participant presented his idea through a “Before” and “after” scenario expressed in the form story. You don’t need fancy drawings. A lot can be done just using the stick figures.

Idea socialization through blogging: During this session we explored blogging as a medium to socialize your idea. For most of the participants, they were writing a blog for the first time. We followed 3 simple rules: (1) curiosity before content (e.g. Is the problem definition clear?) (2) options before solution (e.g. have you discussed options and trade-offs before proposing a solution?) (3) Prototype is the best presentation (e.g. have you given a glimpse for the reader to experience the idea?) Each participant also commented on at least one blog. Here we followed a simple rule – bright spot before grey spot – i.e. do you have anything good to say about the article before you talk about improvements? Please check out the blogs we wrote.

Chat with industry experts: We were fortunate to have two informal discussion sessions with two industry experts: Dr. Milind Bhandarkar, Chief Scientist at Greenplum (EMC) and Hadoop evangelist and Dr. Dinesh Nair, Chief Architect at National Instruments. Milind graciously agreed to skype from Bay area and gave us an overview of his career from CDAC’s Param to SUNY Buffalo to UIUC to Yahoo to Greenplum etc. He told us what it meant to be part of the founding team of Hadoop at Yahoo and how it helps to have a competitor like Google to get internal buy-in for a new technology like Hadoop. As a leader of the Big Data consortium Milind also shared some of the key challenges and opportunities associated with the technology.


Dinesh heads the Center of excellence on vision and machine learning at NI Bangalore. He belongs to the rare species which has stuck with a single company in his career. A prolific inventor (holding over 30 patents) Dinesh shared his experiences on variety of topics such as role of patenting and prototyping, role of blogging in socializing ideas, how he tracks technology trends, how one needs to let go of an idea when the time is not right and a bunch of other things.

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