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In 1998, Curtis Carlson became CEO of the renowned research center SRI International. An established center that has proven its effectiveness through various discoveries and innovations in the field of industry and technology. Among SRI’s achievements are the first Internet broadcast, the development of the first AI-based robot to revolutionize the personal computer, the invention of inventions such as the computer mouse, electronic banking, and robotic surgery, facilities and improving the working environment. In 2014 SRI made progress and became once again one of the world’s leading innovation companies. Revenues more than tripled, updated the way employees work through the use of systematic and improved the process of creating effective value.

In this article we will introduce you to the process used by SRI International for the production of technologies such as HDTV and Siri (now on the iPhone). The methodology created by SRI is used to create both destructive and gradual innovations, and its versions are applied in large universities, national laboratories and large global companies. After leaving the research center, Curtis Carlson partnered with former colleagues to further develop the methodology at Northeastern University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The approach is called “Innovation for Impact”. Its methodology is based on the principles of active learning, which consists of inventing a new product using proven practices from the educational sciences in order to gain insights and faster improvement. Through practical training and participation in real projects, the theory can be synthesized, the techniques used by others can be considered and skills related to the management of the design process can be developed. In order to master the material effectively, people must follow a structured process that includes five main elements of active learning:

  1. Iteration with real-time feedback.
Getting real-time feedback helps develop one or two key ideas related to meeting customer needs and making the right decisions.
  1. Concise mental models.
Psychologists believe that we all build “mental models” through which we make sense of our experience and make decisions. In active learning, these models help us determine our beliefs, insights, and assumptions, based on which we hypothesize what works and what is not effective. Then, through the evidence gathered, we can check whether our hypotheses are correct and, if justified, revise them in order to improve the models. If the mental models are short, the evidence can be made meaningful and better hypotheses presented.
  1. Many learning styles.
In active learning, different approaches and ways of presenting and experimenting with ideas are applied. Images, simulations and prototypes, for example, help to develop ideas, focus on various aspects of a problem and search for possible solutions. Another effective method is storytelling. It has been proven that through stories people can better remember and make sense of information as well as reconsider their beliefs, assumptions and theories.
  1. Team work.
Each person has certain competencies, experience and necessary knowledge to contribute to the effectiveness of teamwork and the performance of his or her tasks. The goal is to bring together teams with the same vision, but complementary skills and different points of view, because no one person has all the necessary competencies.

Working in teams has many advantages, one of which is increasing engagement, learning and motivation.

  1. Frequent comparison.
The comparison helps us understand our preferences and make decisions. For example, you look at a machine that displays lenses of different strengths. Comparing lenses with subtle distinctions helps the doctor give the correct prescription.

All of the above elements are embedded into a process that focuses on the following components:

  • satisfying customer needs through a proposal to fill a market gap.
  • convincing approach, which consists in presenting an attractive business model to investors and meeting customer needs in a unique and meaningful way.
  • valuable cost benefits. The proposal must provide clearly superior value to customers.
  • superiority over the competition, which means that the product must be more attractive than the alternatives.
The correct formulation of the problem and its effective solution are essential. The proposal of people who reformulate the problem and choose one or more ideas leading to the right solutions is considered successful. Another important moment in the creation of a product are the participants. Successful are those people who have come to the decision of how to satisfy a certain need and are motivated to turn this idea into a product or service. They are able to determine which opportunities are important, to stimulate the development of the value proposition, to learn the necessary skills for value creation, to build the team and to present positive human values. Gradually, the successful people will consult other experienced colleagues to test the assumptions about the valuable offer and eliminate its significant risks.

There are forums that support the value creation process. It consists of three to six teams that have the opportunity to present their proposals and initiatives and receive input from other participants. External experts and partners are often invited to the forums to help participants identify the market, competition and scope of possible solutions.

For a forum to be successful and useful, it needs a good facilitator responsible for managing the schedule and activities, helping the teams when they encounter difficulties and adding new ideas and explanations if necessary. Facilitators are there to help teams understand and apply concepts, restructure problems, and get feedback from their teammates.