22 Tips to Master the 5 Skills of Disruptive Innovators

Become a disruptive innovator by mastering these 5 discovery skills

History is evident that disruptive innovators have the ability to change the world for better; be it Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk…

In his farewell letter to his employees, Jeff Bezos talked about innovation being the root of Amazon’s success. “We’ve done crazy things together, he said, and then made them normal.” Steve Jobs is always remembered for his words about innovators and trailblazers about whom he says “…while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Most people say – ‘Disruptive Innovators’ are wired differently. However, I feel what we are calling as wired differently is just a capability to see things from multiple perspectives. 

Clayton has called these perspectives “Discovery Skills”, in the book “The Innovator’s DNA”. Clayton claims if you can acquire these skills, you can also think like disruptive innovators. This implies if we can teach them to our teams, we can make our organization more innovative. Let’s see what are these ‘Discovery Skills’ and how we can teach them to our people:

  • Associating
  • Questioning
  • Observing
  • Networking
  • Experimenting

Disruptive Innovators | Discovery Skill #1 Associating

Disruptive Innovators | Discovery Skill #1 Associating

Being at the cusp of different disciplines and finding ways to associate them to create ideas that are out of the box is the first discovery skill. How do you train your mind to do this?

Tip #1 – Force New Associations

Combine things that you wouldn’t usually put together. Look around your home and life and find the two most used gadgets but unlikely to be used as a single one and force your mind to make the best possible association. We are picking a refrigerator and Google Home.

Refrigerator + Google Home

Let’s of think some potential associations:

  • How about talking to the refrigerator just the way we talk to Google Home and asking – “How many cartons of milk are left in the fridge?” instead of opening the fridge and checking ourselves.
  • Or how about asking the fridge to ring a bell when your home made ice-cream is set and ready to dig into? Just the way we ask Google Home to set timers.

As a systematic approach, create a table as follows. Pick a problem(s) you are facing, identify a random item or idea. For inspiration, look around you.  Now try to come up with an association of these two. Here are some examples for your reference:

Unsolved problemUnrelated random item or ideaPotential Association
How do I get more users to download my new mobile adventure treasure hunt gaming app?Running shoesCreate a feature where the game uses the phone camera as a projector and allows the user to treat it as a VR experience. 
How do I prepare my workforce for a post covid comeback?House plantCreate a temperature controlled outdoor, socially distanced workspace where masks need not be worn. Create an atmosphere that feels safe and comfortable and makes your workforce want to be present. 
……Your turn…….………………

Tip #2 – Take on a Different Persona

Take on a different persona. Even by physically altering the way you look and dress, you can force yourself to think like someone you are not. For example, if you’re looking for design innovations with a twist of utility, dress in a black t-shirt and blue jeans for a week so you can feel like Steve Jobs. Let his association of learning calligraphy to subsequently create fonts on his computers inspire you.

Tip #3 – Generate Metaphors and Analogies

Find ways to look at things from an uncommon perspective. Use metaphors and analogies to think of products that you could revolutionize. Ever thought of an AI powered smart ceiling lamp that can watch over patients? The device being smart enough to know if the patients are sitting, standing or laying down and to call out for help if they fall down. 

List of Products (“What if” Metaphor)Possible New Features/Benefits
What if” we aren’t controlling video game characters using a remote, but with our brains? What if they just so happen to be going exactly where we want, when we wanted?Mind control gaming with increased efficiency and lesser need of hand eye coordination
Device-less, play from anywhere, unrestricted game time 
What if” 
………Your turn……..………

Tip #4 – Build Your Own Curiosity Box

Collect and put together things from your travels and explorations, things that may not be useful even. Put them together in a box to trigger your curiosity or even display them where they jump out at you everyday. When faced with a problem, look at them and allow them to let you come up with out-of-the-box solutions. 

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Tip #5 – Use SCAMPER to Generate Breakthrough Ideas

SCAMPER! Substitute. Combine. Adapt. Magnify, Minimize, Modify. Put to other uses. Eliminate. Reverse, Rearrange. An acronym to inspire innovation and generate insight, use the concepts that this acronym stands for to rethink and allow you a fresh perspective to a problem you may be facing. 

SCAMPER ChallengeInvent a new type of Vending Machine  
SubstituteSubstitute salespersons at stores with vending machines – unmanned and cashless stores
CombineSell advertisement space by installing a screen
 
AdaptInstall QR codes/screens for digital payments
Magnify, minimize, modifyModify receiving tray to be soft and padded to minimize breakage of delicate items
Put to other useTurn traditional vending machine into fresh juicer by replacing packaged food and drink with fresh fruit and juicing mechanism
EliminateEliminate the keypad to punch in codes for products. Maybe use a touchscreen for product selection.
Reverse, rearrangeInstead of taking stuff out of a vending machine, humans get inside and use it as plug and play office

You might also like to read this post on “Innovations in Aerogels With SCAMPER”.

Disruptive Innovators | Discovery Skill #2 Questioning

Disruptive Innovators | Discovery Skill #2 Questioning

Questioning is the art of learning. Questions seek and frame and expose. Answers change over time, with varying degrees of accuracy and subjectivity. But ask the right questions and you will be amazed how the doors to innovation open. 

Tip #6 – Engage in QuestionStorming

When brainstorming finds you caught in a rut, try QuestionStorming. When you sit down together as a team, ask What if, What caused, Why, Why not, What is questions. Write down every question and once listed, prioritize and discuss the most important or intriguing ones to find better solutions.

Tip #7 – Cultivate Question Thinking

When discussing products and/or innovations within your company, convert your statements into questions. By reformulating statements into questions, you will find not only do the problems you are facing become clearer and help members of your team feel responsible for solutions. Teach your team members in the orientation session about the first principle of thinking. You would love reading this one too – “7 ways to Encourage Innovative Thinking at Your Workplace”.

Tip #8 – Track your QnA Ratio

Keep tabs on your Q&A ratio. Studies have shown that disruptive innovators ask more questions than give answers. And more often than not, good questions generate greater value than good answers. 

Tip #9 – Cultivate your own Question Bank

Maintain a record of your questions as your own written question bank. Keep revisiting these questions to identify patterns and categorize the kinds of questions you are asking. When you do, question your own questions to disrupt your thought to lead to better innovation.   

The table below will help you ask the right questions. 

 Describe the TerritoryDisrupt the Territory
Innovator’s DNA SkillsWhat is? Who? What? When? Where? How?What caused it?Why? Why not?What if? How might?
Observing    
Networking    
Experimenting    

Ask more questions when you go through your question bank. Question your questioning patterns, try and understand which questions generate emotional responses, see what kind of questions lead you best into disruptive thinking patterns.   

Disruptive Innovators | Discovery Skill #3 Observing

Disruptive Innovators | Discovery Skill #3 Observing

Whether it was Einstein with his theory of Gravity or Galileo measuring time with a pendulum; all innovators, thinkers and makers had something in common. They noticed, they observed and they theorized. Observation is the bedrock of innovation. It is where innovation starts. 

Tip #10 – Observe Customers

Observe the people you are making your product for, the existing customers. Observe how these customers experience your product. Look out for what they enjoy most about your product, and look out for what is leaving them dissatisfied about it. Is there a functional connect only or is your product leaving your customer emotionally connected? 

Tip #11 – Observe Companies

Identify a company you like, or one that inspires you. It may be a blue chip company or a trailblazing start-up. Dig into its hows and whys and think of ways you could incorporate its ideas into your business or product. 

Tip #12 – Make Observation a Habit

Set time aside everyday to observe. Make it a task in your daily to do list. Set aside a few minutes each day to observe the world around you, or a part of it that catches your fancy. Note down (this may even be photographs and videos on your phone) your observations and review them every once in a while. 

Tip #13 – Observe With All your Senses

Observe with more than just your mind. Whether you are observing customers, another company or the world around you, observe with all your senses. Make it a habit to see, taste, hear, smell and feel every experience. Make notes about what responses various experiences trigger in you. You never know what explosive idea is hiding under a whiff of something!

Disruptive Innovators | Discovery Skill #4 Networking

Disruptive Innovators | Discovery Skill #4 Networking

Idea networking is about you stepping out of your comfort zone and engaging with people who have thoughts that may be different from your own. Fresh thoughts, ideas and perspectives are a powerful arsenal to carry in your toolkit. 

Tip #14 – Expand your Network Diversity

If you are the smartest person in a room, you are in the wrong room. So, like Tony Robbins says, surround yourself with people who are successful, who are forward-moving, who are positive, who are focused on producing results, who support you, it will challenge you to be more and do more and share more. If you can surround yourself with people who will never let you settle for less than you can be, you have the greatest gift that anyone can hope for. Expand the diversity of your network. Engage with people of different ages, socio-economic backgrounds, gender, profession, industry, countries. 

Tip #15 – Start a Mealtime Networking Plan

Don’t have the time to expand your network? Start doing so over a meal. Have a meal with someone in your organization or social circle you never would ordinarily. Step outside your comfort zone if you have to to engage with a person you may not always agree with. 

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Tip #16 – Plan and Attend New Events Each Year

Attend conferences and seminars as an opportunity to network and learn alongside. Choose a couple of conferences/seminars to attend in a year – one in a subject that interests you and another that is outside your comfort zone. This is a great way to meet people with different perspectives.

Tip #17 – Foster a Creative Community

Become part of, or better still, initiate a creative community and meet regularly to nurture ideas beyond your workplace. Invite outsiders to these meetings to get fresh ideas. Let the people you invite be a healthy mix of experts and novices so you can draw on both experience and raw enthusiasm. Train with the experts and let the exuberance of newness ignite your passion.

Disruptive Innovators | Discovery Skill #5 Experimenting

Disruptive Innovators | Discovery Skill #5 Experimenting

Experimentation is fundamental to get insights and new knowledge and in relation to innovation, experimentation is usually seen as a “search for new value”, a journey to innovation.

Tip #18 – Cross Physical and Intellectual Borders

Changing spaces – both physical and intellectual help you break out of routine and fixed mindset. Visit new places – museums, libraries, parks. Join new professional or recreational activities, attend lectures, take an online class or indulge in art. Subscribe to content from different contexts and different geographies. When you open yourself up to alien information, you will see yourself shift from a routine mindset to a hypothesis-testing mindset. 

Tip #19 – Invest Time in Developing a New Skill

Find something you are passionate about beyond your work. Turn it into a skill that you work to develop. It could be painting or photography or ballet or yoga. If you don’t want to go that far, identify another function in your company and explore it deeply.

Tip #20 – Disassemble a Product and Build a Prototype of an Idea

Have something old at home that is gathering dust? Turn it into a weekend repair project. Take it apart, study it and try to reassemble it. Have something at home that you think you could make better? Engage in a product improvement project and turn it into a prototype! Play-doh and Lego are great to create prototypes with your kids and to initiate them into innovation early. 

Tip #21 – Be Regular with Piloting New Ideas

Pick up ideas from the idea books you are maintaining and make a commitment to yourself to carry out a pilot test of one of those every month. If it doesn’t work the first time, experiment on it the next time with a small tweak here and there.

Tip #22 – Go Trend Spotting

Stay up to date with the happenings around you and constantly be on the lookout for emerging trends. Look into the future with the resources you have today and try and think of how you can ride the trend wave.  

Let’s Sum It Up

In sum, remember to keep moving. Remember you don’t have to be born an innovator. You can join the league of disruptive innovators. And while you’re on the innovation treadmill, let Bezos’ words ring loud – “Keep inventing and don’t despair when at first the idea looks crazy. Remember to wander. Let curiosity be your compass. It remains Day 1.” 

Read Next: “How To Seek Investment Using Patents?

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Note: The preceding is general business advice and not to be construed as legal advice. IP laws vary by country and retaining licensed legal counsel is advised to confirm this information. Any expressed or implied opinions are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Triangle IP or any other entity who might be associated with the presenter. We hope this content is helpful to you, but should not be relied upon without confirming the advice and accuracy with local legal counsel. Any comments or inquiries are not confidential so please discuss your issues directly with counsel.

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Innovations in Aerogels – SCAMPER for Idea Generation

Innovation in Aerogels - SCAMPER - Idea Generation

Learn how innovations in aerogels by Blueshift, Graphene, Krosslinker, Kalwall and …. can help you come up with the next generation of technologies.   

Looking for some inspiration to generate ideas in Aerogels? You have reached the right spot! In this post we are not just sharing an actionable idea generation technique; but something far more than that. The technique we are covering is called “SCAMPER” and the bonus that we are giving here are the innovations in aerogels. ‘Aerogel’ – one of the most fascinating materials on earth.

What is SCAMPER?

Bob Eberle proposed the SCAMPER technique in his book – SCAMPER: Games for Imagination Development in 1971. You would be surprised to see that it’s not outdated yet and can still help you draw a lot of value.

The word SCAMPER is an acronym for 7 brainstorming methods. With each method, you need to answer specific questions about an existing product or idea to explore something new. Let’s take a look at these 7 methods:

MethodWhat you doWhat questions you ask
SubstituteThe focus of this method is to find alternatives. You substitute a part of the existing idea with something else to create a new thing. Which ingredient can you replace without affecting the solution?

Can you substitute people, time, or place for improving the quality?
CombineYou focus on combining 2 (or more) existing things to result in a better idea.Can you combine a new element into an existing product and improve?

Is it possible to merge 2 or more existing processes to create something new?
Adapt During this method, you stress on adapting a part of or the whole existing product or process in a better way.Can you adapt a new process or technology to the existing product?

Is it possible to adapt a process to improve the speed or results?
Modify (magnify or minify)Try to change the size, dimensions, quantity, or frequency in the existing product, process, or problem.Can you add extra features?

Is there a benefit in increasing or decreasing the frequency?
Put to other useThis process helps you to tinker if you can use your product or process in some other unexpected way?Can you use your product differently?

Is it possible to target another market for the product?
EliminateWhen you use the ‘eliminate’ method, you focus on getting rid of a part or process that may not be beneficial.What can you eliminate from a product or a process?

Is there a way to get rid of the harmful parts?
Reverse (rearrange)In this method, you explore if any rearrangement or reverse technique like upside down or inside out with the product helps get new results?What if you go backward?

Can you reverse a process and get results?

The table above shares a few questions for each technique. Feel free to download the exhaustive questions list for all the 7 techniques.

We are in awe with aerogels and hence chose aerogels to explain SCAMPER. From the first commercialization of aerogel, it has been a topic of fascination among scientists and researchers. And, we are no exception!

If you are an industry veteran from the Aerogel industry, I would recommend you skip to “SCAMPER – The Idea Generation With Innovations in Aerogels” section, as we are going to start with First Principles – explaining from basics.

What Is Aerogel?

Aerogel is a synthetic porous ultralight material. It is the lightest solid on earth; an aerogel block of a car’s size would hardly weigh 1 kg. What makes aerogel so interesting are the properties it exhibits in various conditions.

For instance – aerogels have super high thermal resistance. Look at the picture below – A flower is on a piece of aerogel which is suspended over a flame from a Bunsen burner. The flower remains protected from the flame due to aerogel.

Source – wikipedia

Apparels stuffed with aerogels can keep you warm even under a storm of liquid nitrogen (-321°F / -196°C). That’s how magical it is! The post explores 7 breakthrough innovations in aerogels in the following sections – keep reading!

Who Invented Aerogel? | An interesting Story

The inventor, Samuel Stephens Kistler, made the first aerogel somewhere in 1931. His associate and friend, Charles Learned, had a bet with him to replace the jellies’ liquid without shrinking. Kistler removed the fluid and filled the air using the supercritical drying method. The technique is not as simple as it sounds. Kistler took many years and long research to make the first aerogel.

Why We Picked Aerogel To Explain SCAMPER?

MarketsandMarkets reported last year that the aerogel market would reach a share of $1045M by 2025. During the forecasted period of 2020-2025, it would register a CAGR of 10.4%.

What keeps the demand so high is the applications in the energy, construction, and transportation sectors. The need for thinner, lighter, and economical aerogel would drive the growth. Emerging players are challenging each other for novel ideas and growth, keeping the aerogel’s field vibrant. While nonorganic silica has been the most prominent base material thus far, the carbon in organic material is also quite popular now. Start-ups are exploring eco-friendly routes to produce aerogel, as well.

The end products of aerogel are available in many forms like blankets, monoliths, granules, and powder. Here is a tree structure by IDTechEx to help you understand the base materials and available forms of aerogel.

Different types of Aerogels and the terminology

Source – IDTechEx

Having so much innovations in aerogels going on, how could we not dive in the ocean of aerogels to pull out some pearls for you? TriangleIP believes in democratizing innovation so that we can help more people innovate. So here we are sharing different models that you can use to generate more ideas. 

So, let’s learn SCAMPER with examples of aerogel based products and companies.

SCAMPER – The Idea Generation With Innovations in Aerogels

Of all the companies working with aerogels, we chose 7 promising works, based on their innovation technique that aligns with one of the SCAMPER methods. 

Substitute Like Blueshift

Traditional aerogel is made up of silica, which makes it brittle. Such aerogel can fracture under high pressure. Blueshift substituted the silica with polyimides polymer to create a highly flexible aerogel. Trademarked as AeroZero®, this aerogel makes good tapes and laminates. The strength, insulation, and flexibility make it versatile for various industrial purposes.

Innovations in Aerogel - Blueshift - Substitute
  • Aerospace and defense use AeroZero® due to its high insulation and cryogenic properties. 
  • Electronics and telecom fields have adopted AeroZero® because of its lightweightness. 
  • The semiconductors industry uses AeroZero® as it performs uniformly between temperature -200 °C and 250 °C+.

How incredible, isn’t it?

Imagine substituting one of the core materials to solve the existing problems when you think of an idea generation technique. 

Combine like Graphene Composites

“Innovation is taking two things that exist and putting them together in a new way.” – Tom Freston, Co-founder, MTV

Although Graphene Composites (GC) makes composites for aerospace, which are lighter than the carbon-based parts and have higher strength, their armors are worth talking about.

GC combines graphene with aerogel to produce the strongest, lightest, and resilient GC Shields as ballistic armors. These shields disperse the impact of a bullet or stab more effectively than other armor. GC Shieldshave been tested with various rifles, shotguns, and knives.

These mobile shields come in different sizes. They can fit in a school bag or be obtained in a bigger size to protect the full torso. A pack of shields combined to make a wall offers group protection during an attack. GC Shield™ Curtain protects active shooters in large and open spaces.

Innovations in Aerogel - Combine - Graphene Composites

Graphene Composites stands out among companies working with aerogel due to their unique product. Combining two products to offer new benefits is a great way to innovate. What can you combine to create a new product worth interest?

Adapt Like KrossLinker

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

Do you know 1 out of 5 vaccines spoils during transit in the supply chain? 

KrossLinker came up with an innovative approach to package bio-pharma products. These pharma products are temperature sensitive. Many vaccines and biologics like blood, human organs, vaccines, and drugs suffer from the lack of the proper packaging. The traditional Styrofoam packaging spoils these biologics due to temperature fluctuation and dust.

Then existing aerogel products couldn’t stand up to the fabrication challenge of cold-chain biopharma. First, the production speed couldn’t stand the demand and affected the vaccine cost for the end user. Dusty aerogel products pose contamination risks to biologics. 

KrossLinker took the challenge and innovated aerogel packaging for biopharma products. They solved the dust issues with the silica aerogels. Their products are thin, leading to smooth fabrication. Their technology produces aerogel boards 3x faster and at 50% lower production cost. Owing to low energy consumption, carbon footprints are lesser, too.

SCAMPER - Adapt - Krosslinker - Innovation in Aerogel

Adapting an existing process to solve a burning problem: just the right approach to innovating. And KrossLinker did the same.

Modify like Cabot Corp

The Cabot Corp’s idea of using aerogel powder in cosmetics reflects the ideology of ‘modify’ in SCAMPER.

Aerogel has a remarkable absorption capacity—quite useful to soak moisture and oil from the skin. Hence, if added in the powder form, it’s beneficial to enhance cosmetic functioning.

A skin product renders a matt finish by soaking the oily layer from the skin. Aerogel’s addition helps maintain anti-caking and free-flow properties in skin and beauty products. Also, it helps retain the fragrance.

Innovations in Aerogels - Modify like Cabot Corp

A small touch of aerogel to the beauty products magnifies their properties. What are your thoughts on modifying an already available product and coming up with a new idea?

Put To Another Use Like Kalwall

Aerogel by nature is translucent with a blue tint. Kalwall used this property of aerogel and made use in construction for good daylight trapping in massive structures.

While maintaining the buildings’ aesthetics, their structures make the indoor ambiance cozy and conducive to living. They offer museum-quality daylighting™, Skyroofs®, skylights, canopies, and walkways with aerogels. Not only are these products great for natural lighting, but are also great as thermal insulators.

Another benefit of using Kalwall’s design system is, they help the tenants and owners save on energy expenses. The carbon footprints of these buildings are also low. Kalwall panels also claim to be self-cleaning and resist UV rays.

Innovations in Aerogels - Kalwall - Put to Another Use

Putting a product in a different market is a risk. But a little resilience and perseverance can bring success; Kalwall has proved this.

Eliminate With Bronx Culture

While manufacturing aerogel, Bronx Culture might have thought about one question: How can we achieve the same or better aerogel without superfluous byproducts? Or simply put: what can we remove in the process to make the end product equivalent or better?

Using the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) technique of making aerogel with cellulose fibers, Bronx Culture has developed Oryza Aerogel. Cellulose fibers are obtained by mulching the paper. NUS’s manufacturing process generates zero byproducts, saving the landfills from paper wastes.

Oryza Aerogel has no crystalline silica dust in the residues. This means a safe working environment for workers by minimizing the hazardous effects due to inhalation and contact.

Innovations in Aerogels - Bronx Culture - Eliminate - SCAMPER

Bronx also eliminated eco hazards by adopting green and eco-friendly manufacturing processes. The NUS technique consumes less energy and lesser hazardous chemicals. Paper that goes otherwise into landfills is now a source of aerogel.

Isn’t it time to go green and eliminate environmental perils in our innovations, just like Bronx Culture?

Rearrange Like Dunlop Racquets

“If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” – Charles Kettering, Inventor

When Dunlop decided to manufacture racquets using aerogel, they might have one question in mind: How can we rearrange the current structure for better results?

Dunlop rearranged the design and structure of their racquets to provide more strength and shock absorption. Due to its extreme strength and lightweight, aerogel was a perfect answer to making the racquets better.

The company placed aerogel strategically at 2, 5, 7, and 10 o’clock positions in the racket’s hoop. This increased the size of the sweet spots and spiked the stability of the racquets. These racquets also have Dunlop’s patented Aerobridge technology. Aerobridge is a dampening system, which cancels string vibration. For this, they use an aerogel sleeve in the throat of the racquets.

Innovations in Aerogels - Dunlop Rackets - Rearrange - SCAMPER

The design has helped players win world titles. Rearranging or reversing a technology like reverse engineering is a proven and old style to handle problems and works well in many fields. 

What is one thing you can rearrange in a design or even look in the reverse direction to solve a burning issue?

Let’s Sum it Up

SCAMPER, time and again, has proven to be useful for problem-solving and innovating worthy products. The best part of SCAMPER is that it forces you to question the status quo and as you know best the breakthrough innovations come when you challenge the status quo. 

Do try it in your next R&D meeting. Whether you work as a one-person team or in a group, idea generation this way is systematic and result-oriented. So, which of the 7 methods are you choosing to solve a problem? Tell us in the comments section; we are open to brainstorming. Feel free to download the questions list for all the 7 methods by filling the form below!

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