Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Innovation in practice

I prescribe to the following definition of innovation: "A novel idea, put into practice that offers value to the customers and/or the society." Fisher, Biviji, & Nair, 2011.

Dr. Sebastian Thrun's (top, right) Stanford University team won the 2005 DARPA Challenge for an autonomous automotive. I choose to kick-off 2013 with this example of innovation in practice as it highlights two foundational facts regarding product innovation:
  • Traditional product development methods with unlimited resources and funding can produce results, but not necessarily innovation.
  • Innovation is about novel ways of doing things, which must disrupt with very large positive margins the cost of doing business, or time to market or resource requirements or all.
Dr. Thrun's team was substantially smaller than his competition Dr. Whittaker who had over one hundred strong team.  Dr. Whittaker had a war chest of $3,000,000.  It is simply delightful to see how different the two approaches are and how Dr. Thrun won the DARPA Challenge.

A key highlight of Dr. Thrun's approach was to quickly identify commoditized processes and technologies, leverage the power of commoditization to focus on the breakthrough from the start.  As stated in "Stanley: The Robot that Won the DARPA Grand Challenge":

"Before both the 2004 and 2005 Grand Challenges, DARPA revealed to the competitors that a stock 4WD pickup truck would be physically capable of traversing the entire course. These announcements suggested that the innovations necessary to successfully complete the challenge would be in designing intelligent driving software, not in designing exotic vehicles. This announcement and the performance of the top finishers in the 2004 race guided the design philosophy of the Stanford Racing Team: Treat autonomous navigation as a software problem."

Read the complete paper "Stanley: The Robot that Won the DARPA Grand Challengehere.  Watch the PBS video of the race and be inspired to innovate.  The transcript of the video is available here.