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Blue Sky Research

~ a compliance and innovation company ~




Problems? What problems

Innovation is commonly left to experts or a specialist group of problem-solvers within a business or organisation. This can be quite successful, but sometimes the approach suffers from those involved being too close to a problem to recognise a flaw or they come up with the same old ideas. Edward de Bono, the well-known innovative thinker, has written much on 'vertical' thinking - the logical step by step progression for solving problems - this being a good way to get stuck in the past! Instead, he prefers a 'lateral' thinking approach -where disruptive thinking leads to a completely new way of doing things NOT logically connected to the old ways. In this period of the credit-crunch and World down-turn, we see disruptive, lean innovation thinking as an important process to move our client's businesses into a strong, secure and profit-making position.

New Ideas:  

So, can anyone come up with these wonderful new innovative ideas? Unfortunately no, BUT, in the same way an automobile driver doesn't need to understand all about the engine in a vehicle, individuals can be helped to improve their odds of finding that 'big idea' very significantly. HOW? By using the tools and methodology that are tried and tested by Science, Industry and the Military.

Is it new?

Where has this 'thinking' idea come from? Well, an early source was at the University of Salford, England  where Professor Mike Hampshire, the then Chair of the Electrical Engineering Faculty, developed the principles and methods involved - initially for under-graduate and graduate students. Whilst using some of the language of Michael Michalko, de Bono and others, Structured Innovation, as the method became known, is highly original, and a very structured method of finding solutions to all manner of problems - technical and non-technical. 

The process goes commercial:

Progressively, the method moved from academia into commerce through the University's highly-commercial consultancy business. Based on an operation similar to MIT in the USA, it was here that the practical application of 'formalised brain-storming' came of age. It was used to solve 'real-engineering' and business problems - innovatively. Historically, Structured Innovation had been used by the University itself to solve these engineering problems, and was often included as part of the programme of work for bid projects. But it was pressure from clients that made it available as a stand-alone commercial tool. Peter Lewis, CEO, brought these methodologies on Structured Innovation and Structured Decision Making to Blue Sky Research as a continuation of the process started at the University of Salford. 

Igniting the fire:  

The formal Brainstorming technique of Structured Innovation is designed to draw-out ideas which otherwise would be submerged in the hurly-burly of less structured problem solving sessions. An important danger is avoided; some ideas which might have been suppressed out of modesty, or because they might be thought to be foolish, but which may be the very ones sparking off a successful approach, are allowed to flourish and given a chance to bear the fruit of success. 

The process:  

Following important preliminary work before a Structured Innovation meeting, a presentation on the problem is made by the problem-owner - this can be done by several means including video conferencing etc.  Ideas are then sought in a non-judgemental way. We have a number of trainer facilitators, including International Speaker and European Expert Peter Lewis, who guides the Structured Innovation sessions, directing the proceedings rather than taking the lead in the technical debate. Ideas are reviewed in an uncritical way and placed in priority order. During the review, spin-off ideas may be generated. This approach is valuable for stubborn problems, and to allow for ideas from people who might not normally be regarded as problem solvers but whose contribution may be pivotal - diversity of people and their experience and skills is a key element in the programme. After various iterations and other processes, another tool in the chest can be employed - Structured Decision Making. This special technique ranks the solutions and distinguishes any clear winners using numerical methods - a process where the boundaries between Artificial Intelligence, Expert Systems and Mathematics gets blurred.

Blue chip clients: 

So who uses this method? Every technical sector of the economy, from Scientific Research, Industry, Petro-chemicals, Aerospace, Nuclear and Military. Users include the global engineering group Balfour Beatty, Henry Boot, British Nuclear Fuels, British Aerospace, Ministry of Defence and innumerable Small to Medium size Enterprises.

But my problem is not technical! 

The Structured Innovation ideas generation method is equally suited to solving business and other non-technical problems. The principles of problem-solving remain more-or-less the same independent of the focus, and in principle can be applied to Marketing, Commerce, Social Enterprise, and Political problems.

How to proceed? 

First define your problem. This sounds ludicrously obvious, but asking the right questions is fundamental to the Structured Innovation process, and some iteration of 'what we're really here to do' is likely -sometimes modifying the original 'question' in the process. Having got your subject, contact Peter Lewis for a no-commitment review. This frames the issues you wish to discuss and maps-out a way forward, identifying the people to be involved, your own 'experts', other expertise required, costs and time scales.

Example: Giant North American Battery

It may come as no surprise to know that life and the universe can be as strange as the strangest ideas we can ever conceive.  As a bizarre example, some of the world's largest batteries are being formed in north America from acidic ponds. These pools are dotted across the country as a result of mining - water leaching sulphide compounds present in the surrounding rock and filling the holes left in the ground. With a pH similar to lemon juice, the job of neutralising the acid with limestone, the traditional method, would take centuries and cost a fortune. Canadian geologists came up with a cheap and innovative alternative - turning the ponds into batteries! With 10 million gallons of pond water and metal bearing rocks on the shore, they used hunks of scrap iron as anodes connected with household copper wire - 'the big idea'!!! YES IT'S TRUE! This neutralised the acid by running the battery down! Sadly this is not one of our brilliant ideas, but it is typical of the work we do and the ideas we have -we are sure you will understand that for confidentiality reasons we do not tell about our clients' problems or solutions, that's their business, and yours will remain confidential too.

So to get into the future - use these modern business tools

Call Peter Lewis now for a no-obligation review on +44 (0)1253 781414, or email innovation@blueskyresearch.org for further details

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Blue Sky Research
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