For UC students, innovation is a skill, not a gift. According to Drew Boyd, executive director of the MS marketing program at the UC College of Business, students from all disciplines can learn how to innovate on demand when they're armed with the right tools.
Boyd does just that in his graduate-level innovation tools class by teaching Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT), an innovation method based on three ideas–following patterns, working backwards and starting with the problem. First, the majority of successful innovations follow one of five patterns. Drew Boyd, executive director of the MS marketing program, explains: “These patterns are like the DNA of innovative products, and they that can be reapplied to innovate any product or service." Second, innovation happens when we start with a configuration (the “solution”) and work backwards to the “problem” that it can solve. “It turns out that humans are better at thinking this way, instead of the traditional “problem-to-solution” approach to innovating,” says Boyd. Finally, better innovation happens when we start within the world of the problem i.e., “the closed world.” Innovations that use elements of the problem or surrounding environment are more novel and surprising. Indeed, the best innovations are the ones that are conceptualized “inside the box,” not outside.
The class enrolled 45 graduate students from various colleges and disciplines at UC, including the College of Business and the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning. Students learn the 5 patterns, or tools, of innovation and apply them to innovate on demand. They also learn how to link their innovative product to the right target audience and market it using compelling marketing copy. “We teach a bit of the big picture marketing framework so that students learn how to tie innovation and marketing strategy to create an innovation road map,” says Boyd.
Eight teams worked on a mix of products, services and government programs:
1. Inflight Services: This team found ways to innovate new products and services to be used for commercial airlines. This could include tangible new configurations within the passenger compartment as well as service models on and off the airplane.
2. Cosmetics: This team tackled the traditional women's beauty category of products to include lipstick, foundation and the myriad of accessories. Innovations from this team could address new types of make-up products, new versions of current products and new ways to use or apply makeup.
3. City of Cincinnati: This team found innovative solutions to the very important service of public sanitation and waste collection, and was formed at the request of the public works department at the City of Cincinnati. Their solutions could address areas of innovative waste collection, disposal and treatment concepts.
4. Pharmaceuticals: This team was a collection of students in other graduate and doctoral programs at the University. Their task was to apply SIT to the pharmaceutical world and included delivery methods (pills, capsules etc.), processes and discovery.
5. UC Distance Learning: This team had the challenging assignment of applying SIT to traditional online distance learning programs. Their client was the UC College of Business. The group was expected to invent completely new-to-the-world innovations around distance learning that can be applied for the first time at UC.
6. Marketing Research: This team worked for a client in Cincinnati to create new methods and models of marketing research. This industry (like most) has a lot of “fixedness” about how their profession works. The team had to break the mold and develop completely new and innovative ways to use marketing research and its resources.
7. Vicks Humidifier: This team worked on finding innovative product solutions in the humidifier category for a client at Procter & Gamble.
8. Cintas: This team had the assignment of creating new service models for Cintas, a leader in uniform production, fire protection and other services delivered to corporations.
The output from each team was a “Dream Catalog,” a hypothetical collection of their best ideas in graphic form, along with target audience-specific marketing copy. “This technique of putting together a simulated catalog of new products and services teaches students how to bring innovations to life and align an organization to gain support,” notes Boyd.
As in past courses, the final exam was a complete and comprehensive demonstration of “innovating on demand.” Students were given a product that they do not know ahead of time. They had three hours to use each of the five SIT patterns correctly to create completely new-to-the-world innovations in that category.