12 Principles of Innovation Engineering


February 6, 2020


Professor Sidhu introduces students to the Innovation Engineering Framework

Innovation Engineering is a new framework developed by the Sutardja Center to apply technology and create transformation by aligning human talent in an efficient, effective, and positive manner.  This framework offers practical guidance for how – large firms, research labs, new ventures, and even student projects can execute their innovation projects and make their ideas a reality. The specific tenets that comprise this framework are spelled out here:

  1. Start with Story: Innovative projects start with a story narrative. Many projects go wrong because they start with a list of requirements. However, by starting with a story – such as a venture pitch, or narrative like the company SRI used to present the concept of Siri to Apple – allows everyone to better understand and agree on the objective of the project from the beginning.
  2. Strategy: Strategy should be set by the question of “how will the project win” according to your mission. Business strategy is selected a set of investments and activities that allow a firm or project to have an unfair advantage. It is not enough to be able to offer a product or service, the offering must be able to produce a lower cost, have capability that cannot be copied, serve a niche, or be differentiated in another way that others cannot.
  3. Technology Strategy: Set technology strategy to achieve flexibility and speed/ease of incremental development. Besides creating a strategy for the overall project, a technology strategy creates an advantage in the way the product or service is put together. The choices platforms, tools, and components can make a very large difference.  It can be a great advantage when these choices make speed of development faster or allow quick changes. For example, when NVIDIA created new GPU processors, the product allowed this same advantage of ease of programming not for itself, but for its customers which opened a new market. In addition, the most successful innovators also know how to solve complex problems by breaking them down to a fundamental systems-level, all while keeping the design as simple and effective as possible.
  4. Scope: Choose a project scope and objectives which the ecosystem will support. The project plan should include partnerships and ecosystem development from the start. For example, when the food delivery app, Caviar, was first being created, they chose a scope of food delivery services because they realized that restaurants would not mind giving up that service to other companies. The delivery service function was actually a distraction to their main business.
  5. Team Evaluation: A successful project will have 1) an exciting story; 2) logical high-powered execution; and 3) social progress. Not every team member has to have all capabilities, but trust and mutual appreciation among team members is necessary. When investors or managers think about supporting a project, they need to consider all of these factors. Available at berkeleyinnnovationindex.org, there is a survey of under 10 questions that can help managers and investors evaluate a team based on these factors.
  6. Execution while Learning: Use inductive learning and reflection. Inductive learning moves from specific instances into a generalized conclusion, while deductive learning moves from generalized principles that are known to be true to a true and specific conclusion. Learning areas may include technology, tools, validation, business model, descriptive language, sales cycle or other areas. This concept is like driving to a destination, while learning how to drive a car. In any given project, this means the team is learning about the tools, the users, and the environment while at the same time developing the innovation, product, or business. For example, for an innovative team which primarily technology-oriented members, while developing the project, team members will have to recruit or develop business acumen to help distribute the product.
  7. Agile Increments: Project execution is accomplished in agile increments, generally starting from the user’s touch point. This means that while the team is following its strategy, it develops the complete project increments. After each incremental step, a reflection process is used to understand what is working, what is not working, and what is most important to correct in the next incremental step. This is in contrast to mindlessly following a plan only to find that the result has missed its objective.
  8. Test or validate everything: Always be able to separate what you know will work and what you don’t know. Seek truth, avoid spin. For example, when NVIDIA was testing its Fermi project, the product had a problem, and in common with many similar situations, the obvious or simplest explanation turned out to be wrong. The best practice is to verify every assumption while trying to figure it out. The same is true for business and customers, every assumption about what a customer wants, or needs must be validated no matter how obvious it seems.
  9. Learn to use enough powerful tools: Whether we are talking about software tools as we teach in Data-X, the command line interface of a router, or a business tools in a given industry, it is important to be proficient with multiple tools. The same is even true for theoretic tools. Richard Feynman, the famous Nobel Prize winning physicist, said that as a punishment, he was assigned to solve integrals in many ways. It turned out later that in solving complex problems, when others gave up, he had more “tools” that he could try, and others just did not have enough options.
  10. Innovation Leadership: A leader’s primary job is to select, recruit, support and align the best team. The most important element within the team is “trust.” An innovative leader’s downfall is insecurity and ego. The innovative leader should welcome feedback and shy away from egotistical or insecure habits.
  11. Behavior and Mindset: Innovation behaviors across the team include wide comfort zone, EQ, grit, and a balance of broad thinkers and reliable, operational/functional experts. The original team starts with mostly broad thinkers. Positive mindsets include “I can accomplish or learn anything” (growth), “resources are abundant” (to avoid over competition) and “adversity can be channeled to become a source of strength” (motivation). Team members should have positively affirmed beliefs about themselves (confidence). As made famous by Nike, the example mindset of “Just do it” is a better mindset than “We are good at making shoes.”
  12. Innovation Environment: An environment that fosters innovation should allow intellectually diverse types of people to mix/collide together under pressure and common purpose.  It has been a hallmark of innovation at Berkeley that mixing talented people with different backgrounds and ideas and putting them together on projects with common purpose has been a key to innovation. That innovation is stronger when people are mixtures of different professional segments from on campus and off campus. Whether you are creating or joining an incubator, a design firm, or innovative corporate environment, the key is the mixing and trust building of intellectually diverse, capable people who can find common purpose together. 

Interested to learn more? Check out these slides, innovation-engineering.net and read Professor Sidhu’s new book, Innovation Engineering