Innovation Tree

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Innovation Tree Analysis (ITA) 


Jayaprakashan Ambali


Innovations are usually considered to be the work of geniuses, guided by a sudden flash of brilliance, characterised as in cartoons by the lighting of a bulb in the brain. May be it originated with Edison and the invention of the light bulb, but not many know that an electric bulb of similar design existed seven decades earlier, but was not commercially viable because the filament was made of platinum, prohibitively expensive. Hence it is reasonable to say thatEdison’s bulb was not an invention, but an innovation that solved the problem with high cost of filament by replacing it with carbon filament. The message here is that innovations do not need the work of a genius, but will definitely need structured analysis and development and a lot of perspiration.

Another view is that innovations emerge in response to problems with the products in use. The limitation of this approach is that the innovations are framed by the existing design constraints and depends largely on the quality and variety of feed backs from the product users. This approach does not provide for a structured approach to identify and develop innovations based on the available technologies. The hybrid motor cars and LCD TVs could not have come in response to customer complaints about existing cars and television tubes. These are innovations where new technologies are introduced to provide a better product while meeting the same objectives, or human needs.

The adage that “necessity is the mother of invention” is true, but “necessity” is an ever changing concept. Many of the necessities of today are culturally determined and influenced by the available technologies. Simplest of necessities, foot wear for example, was not a necessity a few decades ago in most part of the world. Access to electricity and television are considered essential necessities in most part of the world today. Innovations of today can be the necessities of tomorrow. The direction of causation, from necessity towards innovation does not always hold true.

Undoubtedly, there are some timeless human needs or necessities and a hierarchy of them proposed by Maslow. The means to meet them are determined by the innovations. These innovations have germinated in a variety of circumstances from creative ideas and have adapted in response to the emerging technologies. As noted earlier, some have been the work of geniuses, some have emerged through innovative problem solving, but most have been the work of average people working in teams to create new products and services as part of their daily grind. They are not particularly gifted and creative people, but have put in sustained efforts to make the innovations successful through incremental changes in their design and manufacturing processes.

Innovation Tree Analysis (ITA) 

The basis premise of the innovation development approach is that opportunities for innovations can be identified through a systematised and formal process. This involves an analysis of an existing product or a design brief into its various subsystem level functional requirements to identify opportunities for innovations. This approach is highly effective in identifying incremental innovation opportunities.

Innovation tree analysis is a top down analysis to identify the various tasks or functional elements to be completed to achieve the desired outcome. The process followed is very similar to the well known Fault Tree Analysis used to establish failure probabilities in complex systems.

The first step in ITA is the creation of Innovation Tree Diagram. This is a representation of the logical relationship between a desired outcome and the tasks and methods needed to achieve it. At the top of the tree is the desired out come, the Top Event, the design brief.  This design brief should include the performance specification, the design constraints and any other conditions the design should meet. For complex innovations, the components or subsystems that make up the whole need to be analysed separately and integrated later. A too narrow specification of the top event will limit the options available at the lower level to introduce innovative ideas.

The next step is to identify a set of tasks to be completed to realise the top event. These tasks are related to the top event through logic gates as in the fault tree analysis. Sometimes more than one task need to be completed in which case they are linked by an “and gate to the top event. In some situations, the top event can be realised by different task options in which case it is linked to the top event through an “or’ gate. The tasks constitute the second layer of the Innovation Tree.

The third and last level of the innovation tree identifies the methods available to perform each of the tasks. For each of the tasks at the level two, methods to perform them are identified. Where there are different methods available to perform a task, they are linked to the task through an “or” gate. If performing the task requires two or more distinct actions, they are linked to the task above through an “and” gate.

A completed Innovation Tree Diagram gives a graphical presentation of the tasks required to be completed to realise the desired out come. This diagram also identifies the methods available to carry out each of the tasks. This diagram in itself is guide to identify areas where some of the available optional methods to carry out a task have not been put into practice through an innovation.

The innovation workshop of TIPS will include a practical exercise of ITA with several products brought from abroad so that after the participants can carryout the analysis on their own.



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