08 Oct Motivators and Conditions for Innovation
The wheel, airplane and light bulb are among some of the major inventions of all time. The wheel brought to the existence of automobiles, bicycles and conveyor belts and thus we enjoy land mobility. The airplane led to the subsequent existence of the helicopters, gliders and jet planes, which gave us the convenience of air mobility. The light bulb gave birth to the existence of the fluorescent light, vehicle headlamps, spotlights and LEDs providing us everlasting light source. In the construction industry, several high achievements of inventors in the past have led to many further greater constructions. Those high achievements include the iron arch St Louis Bridge spanning the Mississippi River in 1867, the Washington Canal in 1810 and many others.
Have you ever wondered how all these companies are able to create an environment for innovation to kick in and stay? Before setting the conditions in the company to promote innovation, we need to understand the main motivators of inventors such as scientists, engineers, researchers and similar creativity enthusiasts to keep them inventing, innovating and creating.
Basic Motivator #1
Passion to solve existing problems
This group of people is observant on the problems of their daily life and will keep on thinking of ways to create solutions to these problems. These solutions will directly and sometimes indirectly evolve into inventions!
In order to stabilize nitroglycerin, Alfred Nobel’s brother was killed through an explosion. This problem motivated Alfred Nobel to work on ways to contain the explosive liquid. Some say that at one time, when transporting nitroglycerin, the can containing the liquid leaked on the material containing the cans, called kieselguhr, and it was absorbed perfectly, leading to the discovery of dynamites, which was very much used in the construction industry.
For example, in order to fulfill the current needs for sustainability, many green buildings are being created. One example of successful green building is the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park which fully optimizes usage of natural sunlight, reusing of rainwater and waste and construction raw material was from nearby recycled material. This idea of green building was created by Frank Lloyd Wright from his term of “organic architecture” which means buildings which adapts with nature of its surrounding. This comes with the effort of solving the problem of global warming and sustainability.
Basic Motivator #2
Besides being able to solve problems, some inventors will need to be recognized in some ways. There are many ways to obtain recognition. One of them is to participate in innovation competitions, exhibitions, publications and others. In Malaysia, the Malaysia Construction Industry Excellence Award (MCIEA) by the Construction Industry Development Board Malaysia (CIDB) has a special award for innovation given. In 2012, a few researchers from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia won the special award for their invention of Energy Dissipation System to Absorb Seismic Effect. Internationally, the British Construction Industry Award (BCIA) is available to recognize players in the construction industry, whereby there is also a category called Technical Innovation of the Year.
Besides awards, one way to recognize the inventors is by way of patent application, where the inventors are duly mentioned and recognized in the published patents and they can have an opportunity to have monetary gains from a granted patent.
Basic Motivator #3
Noble cause for mankind
This applies to some of the selfless inventors, who work hard thinking of ways to solve problems by inventing, in order to give back to the society. This type of inventors publishes his works without applying for any patent rights, so that the society is able to utilize and refer to his work
After the motivators are identified, we set the conditions to promote innovation within the organisation. Several conditions are essential within the company in order to launch blue ocean products and services:
- “Anyone can provide idea” concept
- Patent remuneration system
- Flat organization
- Innovation as KPI of every employee
- Technology mining
“Anyone can provide idea” concept
Lots of times we will see management of organisations pass the innovation task to their R&D department and product marketing departments. The R&D team will usually innovate based on their research on current products for improvement while the product marketing department will gather the needs and requirement from customers to integrate it in the products to be created by the R&D team.
Although the implementation of client based research is very useful throughout the years, there is a need to further enhance this capability. Innovation is not only for product-based organisations, but also service-based organisation. There are still many untapped potential, skills and talents within the organisation that can be unveiled.
Instead of just relying on the R&D team and product marketing to come up with new ideas, products and features, everyone in the organisation should be encouraged to provide ideas. When we say everyone, it really refers to EVERYONE in the organisation.
Patent remuneration system
We often hear of big corporations or multi-national companies having patent remuneration system, whereby employees are encouraged to submit invention disclosure applications to their internal patent committee for internal approval for their inventions to be applied for patent by the company. The said encouragement is in the form of monetary benefits, whereby the inventors will be paid a fixed sum when their invention is approved to be applied for patent by the company.
A major problem in big corporations is that too many corporate levels have been created due to the big amount of headcount in the company. Between the positions of a junior engineer level to the Vice President of the company may have up to 10 levels. This will affect the quality of research to a great deal because information and requirements will diminish as they go through all these levels. Imagine when the VP sets a certain direction of the company to research on product on a certain direction; the moment it reaches the actual researchers, the actual intention may erode. Also, the time to market will also be lengthening due to the multiple levels of approvals needed.
Therefore, there needs to be a flat or lean organization in order to make sure the top management is kept up to date on the latest developments of research among the research team. By doing this, the researchers will also feel that they are working closely with the top management and feeling of ownership to the research project will arise.
Innovation as KPI for every employee
Usually KPIs for employees in a company would be on their ability to meet deadlines, quality of work, communication with colleagues, teamwork, etc. One very important criterion in the KPI, which should be included in every organization, is innovation. This KPI should be across the board, meaning it should be in every department, be it finance, R&D, marketing, purchasing, manufacturing, etc.
For example, even an executive in the purchasing department can be evaluated in terms of the improvements being injected to the operations, say, leasing company IT equipment instead of buying them upright due to the depreciation of value of such technology equipment, choosing one single supplier which can product a wider range of products instead of a few suppliers to enhance the negotiation power to reduce the cost of products being purchased and many more. Lots of employees just perform according to the ‘standard procedure’ set by the company or their predecessors and do not crack their heads to think of better solutions
Most research centres or R&D departments in larger corporations have their own way of performing technology mining. It is a term used to illustrate an action of studying the currently available technologies in the market in order to find an unexplored area to serve as the direction for a research project, before a research project is being started. Among the ways that technology mining can be done is to go to the website to search their competitor’s current products, search available publications in the market or from universities on that area, and others.
One very good, effective and robust way to study the ‘unexplored region’ for research is through patent database search. This is because there may be individuals or companies out there who files patents on certain technology or products, but have yet to commercialize those inventions. If a researcher were to just perform technology mining using website on current products in the market, they might miss this very important feature. Even if a product has yet to be commercialized or brought to the market, as long as it is patented, the patent owner can always take action towards anyone who produces, sells and exploits that same product.
A man with many hats – Bryan Wong is the Executive Director of Intellect Patent & Innovation Sdn Bhd, a member of Intellect Group of IP Companies and he is also a registered Patent Agent and Industrial Design Agent.
Intellect Group provides intellectual property consulting in areas such as trademark, copyright, patent, industrial design, franchising and licensing.