Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Professor Ulrich's talk about Innovation Tournaments

Innovation and Design have always been fascinating topics for me. Yesterday, Professor Karl Ulrich, a renowned professor of Entrepreneurship and eCommerce spoke to us at the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern. Professor Ulrich has been instrumental of launching companies such as Terrapass Inc. and Xootr LLC.

Professor Ulrich recently wrote a book called Innovation Tournaments, which demonstrates how to systematically identify exceptional opportunities for innovation. The process consists of a generator phase and a refinement phasr. The generator aims to develop a large number of ideas, which have as much variability as possible. The filter/refinement component then rates the ideas based on a set of criteria, in order to eliminate most of the ideas, narrowing down to the best couple of ideas available.

While both the generating mechanism and the filter generally have a lot of noise, and are highly subjective, I feel that the central idea could be very useful when looking at entrepreneurial opportunities. After all, the most important resource for an entrepreneur is his or her time. Why not generate multiple ideas and select the best, as rated by a large group of people? As per Professor Ulrich, better ideas did have a strong correlation with eventual commercial success.

Professor Ulrich also discussed Design Thinking, and described it as the second best process for solving problems. The best? Exact science. Unfortunately, in most cases, exact since does not exist, and using the process of innovation tournaments seems to make a lot of sense. There are a lot of tools available here, including Darwinator, an interesting, free, web-based tool for group evaluation and filtration of ideas.

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