What is your innovation process?

By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor

Creating new, innovative, and effective solutions should be one of the goals of automation professionals in addition to solving day-to-day problems. It is easy for problems to consume all our time, but it is important to consciously spend time creatively thinking. Innovative ideas can come from one person, but more often they come from a collaboration of people from different functional areas. I suggest that automation professionals are in a good position to initiate creative innovation discussions, since automation and controls touch all parts of the manufacturing process, orchestrating and controlling operations.

Innovative ideas often challenge existing paradigms, including methods, processes, and procedures. This is why it is useful to list our assumptions and mentally "kick hard" against current methods, processes, and procedures to gain new insights.

There are many processes to help groups create new ideas. One I learned when trained as a group facilitator at the University of Buffalo Creative Education Foundation may be useful: FPISA. This is very effective when you have a group of people working together.

F – Fact finding

List all the facts about the area you want to improve. It is usually good to target a broad area first and narrow it down into specific target areas later. It is really important to stretch your mind to identify a wide range of associated facts that might not be initially obvious.

P – Problem/opportunity finding 

It is easy to jump to conclusions when thinking what the problem or opportunity might be, so it is good to create many statements around this topic. Spend time completing this question: "In what ways might we ______?" Generate a large number of these questions, and when you think you are finished, stretch your mind and define some more, even if they appear silly or impractical. This is really an important part of the process to dig deep, because we are conditioned by our environment to hold on to assumptions and established ways of doing things.

I – Idea finding

More commonly known as brainstorming, in this process you use the "In what ways might we" questions to focus on a challenge and then brainstorm for new ideas. Do this for a number of the problem/opportunity statements, and brainstorm ideas for each one of them. You may be surprised what insights this gives you by broadening your focus.

S – Solution finding

After developing a field of ideas, develop some criteria to measure potential solutions and new ideas to rate them to get down to the best few. At this point, it is important to narrow the field of things that the group believes are valuable.

A – Acceptance finding

New ideas, processes, and methods can be intimidating, so it is important to think about how to sell them into the organization in a way that will be acceptable to others. Think about the benefits for all stakeholders. During this process, you may think of new ideas or flaws in your plans, and this can be an opportunity to rethink them using the FPISA process. This is a very important step, since an innovative idea is not helpful to an organization unless it is accepted and implemented.

Innovation is a collaborative process by which organizations abandon old paradigms and make significant advances.

About the Author

Bill LydonBill Lydon is InTech’s chief editor. He has more than 25 years of industry experience in building, industrial, and process automation, including product design, application engineering, and project management.

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