Idea Hacking: Feature Innovation Versus Function Innovation

Reframing the Innovation Question

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What do you think about when looking at innovation? Most organizations look at innovation as the process of coming up with new products. This statement is only partially correct. How do you achieve innovation success? The innovation world is continuously moving. Finding the best way to innovate products and services is vital to success. How do you find the best way to innovate in your arena? Is there a better way to go beyond the small fixes and reach new possibilities? On today’s show, I will discuss in more detail how to challenge your innovation efforts with idea hacking.

Function Innovation

When I was at HP, there was this catalyst project based on battery life. Battery life is a nightmare. How do you increase the life of batteries while making them safe? Battery life only sees improvements of 10% every year. The battery is a chemistry problem. Their design has not changed since their invention. A breakthrough was needed, but the reality was that chemistry could not move fast enough. There were improvements made to the power, but not to the battery. These come from hard drives and screen fixes that save and conserve power. How were these improvements made? The perspective of the opportunity and problem was changed. How would you define the need? How would you describe the issue to reach that different perspective?

Feature to Function Innovation

What unlocked the ideas not considered previously? Changing the challenge from “how can we improve batteries?” to “how can we improve portable power?”. This change in mindset may not seem like much, but this switch caused a seismic shift. Battery improvement is “feature innovation.” Portable power is “function innovation.” That simple shift from feature to function innovation unlocked a flood of new ideas. It created an increase in the quality and quantity of views. What was the result? A new desire for the constant availability of power.

New innovative opportunities arose from this shift in thinking. HP began funding universities and hosting ideation workshops in their efforts to create new creative ideas. This concept then turned into a product. Toshiba and HP started working on a co-innovation attempt to create a portable charging device. Toshiba went on to release a refillable USB charger device that sold for USD 328. That is the power of a simple shift in thinking. New innovative ideas are born from changing the challenge. How do you apply the shift form feature innovation to function innovation to your goals?

Here are four key steps:

Step 1 –

  • Define the Product/Service You Are Focused On (Example: high-end laptop)

Step 2 –

  • Describe What its Features Are — What it Does (Example: 17” screen, Intel i9 processors. Keyboard)
  • What feature innovations are you thinking about for the next version? (Example: DreamColor screen, GPU, etc.)

Step 3 –

  • Step Back and Describe the Core “Function” of the Product or Service (Example: Portable computer)
  • How many ways could you define the function? What is the most fundamental core function? (Example: digital file cabinet, digital photo shoebox, etc.)

Step 4 –

  • Ask How Else You Could Perform/Enable the Function (Example: Portable compute — > Phone mobile — thin/edge devices)

 

Apply the little shift in thinking to just about anything. Think about a cup. How many ways can you innovate a cup? There are coffee cups, teacups, Yeti-like cups, sippy cups, etc. What if I asked you to innovate a way to carry liquids? You could cup your hands, use your mouth, use a sponge, use a hose, etc. See what ideas you come up with and post them at The Innovators Community. That simple shift from the feature (innovate a cup) to function (innovate a way to carry liquid) shifted the perspective resulting in ideas never that were before considered.

 

Applying Innovation 

You can apply function innovation to anything from products, services, business models, internal operations, etc. Apply it to any organization from small, large, government, NGO, and Non-Profit companies. Function innovation radically increases the number of ideas you unlock. Is function innovation easy to apply? No, it is a lot harder than it looks. The simple shift from innovating cups to innovating ways to carry liquid is vital to creating new ideas. Why is the process of function innovation so hard? Our human nature wants to jump to the feature. We want a larger hard drive on a laptop, or a bigger cup so we don’t have to refill it so often. We jump to the feature rather than focusing on the function. How do you fix this problem?

Here is an approach I have used thousands of times in product development:

  • Take each feature. Example: 2TB hard drive
  • Define the function: reliable mobile data storage
  • Innovate that function: idea — 2TB solid-state (no moving parts)
  • Repeat for every feature
  • Combine them to create a new product/service made up of innovated multiple functions

This process of going from feature innovation to function innovation is the secret that took HP from #3 or 4 in the marketplace to #1 tech company in the world with their computing products. This function approach will allow you to create a variety of new ideas that could lead to a breakthrough product or service.

 

Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know. The email address is feedback@philmckinney.com, or you can go to PhilMcKinney.com and drop me a note there. If you are looking for innovation support, go to TheInnovators.Network or want to be challenged to develop the next big idea, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops. Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.

To learn about feature and function innovation, listen to this week's show: Idea Hacking: Feature Innovation Versus Function Innovation.

 

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