Wednesday, May 23, 2007

IP protection in India - A Landmark Judgment

On May 23rd 2007, Supreme Court of India in a landmark ruling, ordered Dabur from using a package design which is deceptively similar to Heinz’s Glucon-D packaging.

This is a landmark ruling in Indian Judicial system. Other companies can now file for protection from imitation brand names and from look alike products. This ruling will have a deep impact on how products are packaged & marketed in India. In India where there are so many look alike products - designed to fool people. For example Cadbury’s Eclair Chocolates have several imitations.

The onus on protecting the IP however lies with the IP owner. Indian legal system does not allow the state administration to proactively protect other’s IP. But with this ruling from Supreme Court, lower courts can easily decide and pass similar judgments. Also IP owners can quote this case to warn other imitators.

How not to Brand Technology Products

In my earliest articlesin thos blog, I had wrtten about branding of semiconductors. Back then, Intel was doing everything right in branding and was showing the world how to brand an arcane and estoric products such as a silicon chip. Intel’s success was quickly adapted by AMD, Nvidia and others. And a lot has changed since then.

Last month I was looking around to buy a laptop to replace my aging "Celeron" based Dell Insprion Laptop. Today, the marketing of laptops have changed so much that I now need to choose the "platform" and then drill down to the final model. Being a ‘techie’, I first decided to look around for the right "Platform" or the processor for me and this is when a new realization hit me like a a tonne of brick - Intel is now showing the world how not to brand products!
The brand lineup from Intel & AMD was confusing the customer - unless the customer is tech savvy like me and can differentiate between "Two CPU dies in a package" and "Two CPUs on single silicon" and "Dual core CPU".

The words Core Duo, Core2 Duo, Pentium D, Pentium Dual Core, Turion X64, TurionX2, and confusion would mean all the same for the consumer. These brand names may make perfect sense to all the thousands of engineers at Intel, HP, AMD, Dell, etc.

But for a layman, having a long dazziling array of brand names for products in the same category does not help.( I am sure that even engineers at Intel, AMD would be equally confused). Finally, I called a friend and a former colleague of mine who works in Intel R&D, but he too was mixed up all the monikers at first.

As a marketer this was an interesting observation, All this shows how challenging it is to maintain brand distinctions from the customer point of view. All to often, companies fall into the trap of ‘marketing by geeks’: "If R&D engineers who developed a product can differentiate products be its name, then everyone in the world too can make out the difference."

As computers have become a consumer product - Intel & AMD will have to think of branding their products like how P&G brands its soaps: i.e, brand it like a consumer product. For example Centrino, Centrino-II, Centrino II Plus, Centrino-III etc., would have had a better brand recogniztion than calling it, Centrino, Centrino Core2 Duo, Centrino Dual Core, Centrino Duo.
Having a sequential naming or a logical naming like what Intel followed with its earlier Pentium branding strategy would have had a better recollection and stronger connection with customers.

Closing thoughts

Marketers have to undersatnd the psychology of consumers to be success in branding. Marketers need to understand the mental state of the buyer before making the purchase decision is the key to influence the buying decision.
Having confusing brand extension names (fusion, CoreFusion, Core Duo, Dual core) for estoric products will weaken the main brand and companies will lose their competitive edge.

Also See:

  1. Branding of Semiconductors
  2. Successful Online Branding
  3. Fighting Commoditization of Brands
  4. Branding on Internet
  5. Marketing - Position before you communicate
  6. Developing a Brand Position
  7. Selecting a specific brand position
  8. Define your Brand and determine its value
  9. Brand Management
  10. Branding Mistakes - Having a "Me-Too" Brand Name
  11. Marketing - Build a distinct brand with Product Differentiation

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Developing an Innovation Policy for the Organization

Recently, Ninedots conducted a workshop on Creativity & Innovation for a leading manufacturer of manufacturing equipment in India. This two day workshop was attended by senior managers from sales, finance, marketing, engineering & manufacturing. The objective was to infuse a culture of creativity in the organization so that managers can solve problems and develop innovative solutions to their existing problems.

I won't go into details of the workshop as it might contain confidential information, but there was one thing I would like to bring out from this workshop - i.e., with Ninedots assistance and guidance, the company developed its Innovation Policy. V1.0 ( I call it V1.0 because, the policy is bound to change over a period of time)

If you are reading this blog and if you are working for a company, ask yourself the question: What is our company's innovation policy?

In my experience, most Indian companies and most small & Medium companies all over the world do not have a "Innovation Policy". Companies also do not have a reward mechanism or policy to recognize and reward innovation within their company. Yet most of these companies talk about innovation in their goals or mission or vision statements. The situation in these companies is similar a bunch of kindergarten kids playing soccer - kids are aimlessly kicking the ball around without progressing towards the goal.( See the DVD which comes with Stephen Covey's 8th Habit).

If a company has the word "innovation" anywhere in its their goals or mission or vision statements, then the company needs a innovation policy. The task of developing this policy falls squarely on the top management of the company.

In India, Ninedots conducts workshop on Creativity & Innovation, Innovation Management, IP awareness, IP protection, Problem Solving & Decision making etc. These workshops are very valuable for companies which want to initiate a culture of innovation in their organization. These workshops also helps companies develop an innovation policy - which is best suited for their work culture and business conditions.

Developing an Innovation Policy

Unfortunately, there is no universal innovation policy because the type of innovation in an industry is determined by the nature of the industry, the organization culture, and the maturity of the organization. However there are some common thread in all organizations that can be used to develop the innovation policy. These common threads are:

  1. Encourage Creative Thinking

    Company policies on employee development and people management must encourage people to think creatively. For example, IDEO hires it people based on their creative talents among other skills. Today, companies organize workshops for employees which teaches creative thinking - AT&T, Bell Canada, Fidelity Investments etc., organize creative thinking workshops such as Lateral thinking & Six Thinking Hats from De Bono institute. ( In India, Ninedots conducts workshops in Creativity, Innovation & Six Thinking Hats)

  2. Ear mark a separate time for ideation

    Companies must have a dedicated time for ideation - i.e., time to comeup with ideas. It has been found that people can think & comeup with their best ideas only when they are in a group as verses individual thinking. Having a sperate meeting times for brainstorming or for idea generation is the best way for employees to comeup with new & innovative ideas.

    These ideation meetings must be short and crisp. The meeting leader must set the duration of these meeting in minutes, and the total meeting time should not exceed 30 minutes. It has been found that people comeup with lots of ideas when they are under time pressure. The time pressure forces people to think of new ideas and avoid filtering of ideas even before it is presented.

  3. Treat all ideas for Innovation equally

    In organizations, especially Indian organizations, ideas or proposals coming from a senior manager is given a higher weightage over an idea coming from a junior person - irrespective of the merit of the idea. For innovation to work, all ideas must be treated equally and independently of the originator of the idea. In this way, the idea from a General manager is treated on par with an idea from a Field engineer.

    Treating ideas equally encourages all staff members to be more open with their ideas and this leads to a greater creativity within the organization.

  4. Diversity leads to better quality & more quantity of ideas

    Having a diverse group - i.e., cross functional groups and/or multicultural groups also increases the number of ideas generated during the meetings. Having people from other functional areas allows people to piggyback on other people's ideas. This leads to better ideas and more ideas.

  5. Document all ideas

    Ideas generated during all the ideation meetings must be documented. The ideas generated in these meetings must not be judged - and all ideas must be documented. The rationale for documenting all ideas is that, At the time of idea creation - no idea will be perfect or will have clarity, Most ideas will be vague or fuzzy. So it is difficult to judge the ideas at that time. Moreover one must be open to the concept that there will always be some good things even in a bad idea.

    Documenting all ideas generated during the ideation process is an essential in innovation

  6. Focused thinking

    Ideation meetings work well only when all members in the meeting are focused on a well defined problem statement. Leader of the meeting must define the focus area and communicate the same with all the participants few days before the actual meeting.

    During the meeting, the leader must ensure that all participants are focused and avoid any digression. In case there is any digression, the leader must intervene and bring the group to focus on the issue in hand.

  7. Everyone must participate

    All participants must participate in the ideation meetings. There will be some shy people who may not come out with ideas in the meetings. The leader must encourage and elicit ideas from all participants.

  8. Innovative ideas must be rewarded & recognized

    Participants who come out with innovative ideas must be rewarded. Ideas that were not selected for implementation too must be recognized and documented. It is in human nature to get recognized. Company policy must reflect this to encourage all employees to be innovative.

  9. Nominate an Innovation Champion for every idea accepted for implementation

    Once an idea is accepted for implementation, it will need a business champion who can support the implementation and monitor the progress. People who propose the idea may not have the adequate resources and skills to implement the idea. Therefore it is the duty of the innovation champion to identify the resources and skills needed for the implementation, organize those resources and champion the implementation within the company. Ideally a senior manager must become the innovation champion and he must take the responsibility for its implementation.

  10. All accepted ideas must have a timeline for implementation

    Once an idea is accepted for implementation, it must be tracked with a project plan. Without due diligence, implementation will invariably fail. In most situations, innovative ideas will be vague and will be missing details - this will be discovered only during implementation stage. And at this stage most implementations will bite the dust - as people incharge of implementation will not know how to proceed. Even the person who proposed the original idea may not have all the answers. Under such circumstances, the innovation champion must pursue and not give up, until all options are exhausted. Energy & enthusiasm of the innovation team can take the project forward with several breakthroughs. But there will be times when the project has to be abandoned - when it becomes apparent that the original innovative idea does not have any economical value to the organization. The onus on making this decision is solely on the innovation champion. ( Ninedots conducts workshops on finance for managers which will help participants to learn how to take decisions on innovations based on financial parameters.)

  11. Only the accepted ideas must be implemented.

    Only the accepted ideas must be implemented, other ideas must be documented for future use. People who proposed the ideas must not be discouraged either. Many times people who propose the idea, but if the idea is not accepted, they will continue to work on developing that idea within the company - but under the radar. Such projects which do not have official sanction are called "skunk works" projects. If the organization does not take steps to control & eliminate these skunk works projects, it will have a serious trouble in managing its resources. ( There has been lots of great stories of how various people persevered even after their idea was rejected and how that idea went on to become a big success - 3M's masking tape, Firefox browser, Peer-to-peer networks etc. But from the company's policy point of view, such activities must be discouraged)

Closing Thoughts

Creating a culture of creativity & innovation is a long & arduous process. However, having an innovation policy is the first essential step to encourage innovation within the company. Once the culture of innovation is deeply embedded within the organization, then the written policy for innovation becomes redundant and at times a barrier for innovation. Most innovative companies - such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intel etc. do not need an innovation policy. For other companies which are now embarking on innovation path, having the policy is the first necessary step.

In India, Ninedots consults to companies to develop innovation policies, conducts workshops to imbibe a culture of innovation & creativity. For more details contact Ninedots.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Improving on Brainstorming

Brainstorming technique can further be improved upon by utilizing it with other creative tools. Brainstorming is best when it is used to generate ideas, but the process can be improved upon when brain storming is combined with other creative tools such as:

  • Multi-voting

  • Lotus Blossom

  • Six Thinking Hats®

  • Lateral Thinking ®

I will write more about Six thinking Hats & Lateral Thinking tools later in this blog. These tools are used to refine the ideas generated during the brainstorming session and it helps to select the ones for implementation.


Multi-Voting is best done during the end of the brainstorming session. Inevitably people will run out of ideas in a session or when people feel that they have captured sufficient number of ideas, then at that moment it is useful to use multi-Voting. Multi-Voting is a process of ranking all the ideas that was generated during the session - based on a simple democratic vote. (each person has one vote) The objective is to rank the ideas according to its popularity. The steps for brainstorming are as folllows:

  1. Write down all the ideas generated during the session

  2. If there are similar ideas, merge them into a single idea

  3. Ask the audience to vote on those ideas

  4. Rearrange the ideas according to their popularity

The top (the most popular) 5-10 ideas are the ones that are worthy of pursuing further.
Multi-Voting is an effective way to select and decide on ideas generated during brainstorming. It also helps to gauge the popularity of an idea. It has been observed in the past that the ideas which are widely endorsed by the group also happens to be an excellent idea. The logic or rational here is that the collective intelligence of the group is always better than the individual intelligence. Thus multi-voting is a superior way to filter ideas in a democratic way.

Lotus Blossom

Lotus Blossom is another tool that can be used as an extension to brainstorming. Lotus blossom is a graphical tool to elicit ideas and capture it.

One needs to start with a clearly defined problem statement or with a clear cut objective/goal. Having a clearly definedd problem statement or an objective is essential for better results.

Start with writing the problem statement or the goal at the center of the diagram.

Next step is to ask the participants to brainstorm ideas to meet the objectives or solve the problem. Among the ideas generated, vote for the top 8 popular ideas and wirite them in the blocks A through F.

Next step is to write down the same ideas at the center of the other boxes as shown in the diagram above, and ask the participants to brainstorm for more ideas pertaining to the idea written in the center of each block and select the top 8 ideas and fill up the squares in all the boxes. This will result in 64 ideas.

Lotus Blossom technique thus captures lot more ideas than a typical brainstorming session. The main advantages of lotus blossom are:

  • Focused Brainstorming

  • Ideas are explored in two levels - thus a deeper analysis can be done quickly

  • More ideas are generated & captured

  • Builds on eachother’s ideas

  • Only the popular ideas are captured and these are further explored

  • Inherently democratic process

Multi-Voting and Lotus Blossom are two techniques that are built on brainstorming techniques. These techniques assume that the participants are creative and can generate lots of ideas. Inevitably in most organizations, employees perceive themselves as non-creative and have mindblocks towards creativity. In such cases it will be beneficial for the participants to attend training/workshops which will overcome their mindblocks. There are several tools and methods to help make participants become more creative. Among them the best tools are: Lateral Thinking and Six Thinking Hats.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Improve your brainstorming technique

Brainstorming is an well known method of ideation. It is often used to generate creative ideas in problem solving or to develop new products or services. Though the technique existed for several centuries, the term "brainstorming" was coined by Alex Osborn in 1930’s. Today brainstorming is widely used all over the world to generate a large number of ideas within a short period of time.

Given its wide popularity and wide spread usage, most brainstorming sessions are not really used to its full potential; mainly because of the following reasons:

  1. Wrong person running the brainstorming session
    Not all people have the required skills to run a brainstorming session. The person who runs the session must have: the ability to elicit ideas from the participants, the ability to guide the group to focus on the issue at hand, and must have the stature & respect of the group. If the person does not have the required abilities, the session may lose track and result in a wasted session.

  2. Lack of focus during the session

    In a group setting, it is very likely for the discussion to digress into other areas and lose focus on the main problem. The energy in the room and the heated discussion on a wrong topic is still a wasted effort. The session must have a prime reason - and every participant must focus on the main topic.

  3. Failure to establish rules for the session

    Every brainstorming session must have some ground rules. These rules are discussed later in this article. The onus for establishing the rules is on the person running the session. The rules must be established at the very beginning of the session.

  4. The room chosen for the session is inadequate

    Brainstorming requires fairly a large room to capture and display all ideas. Use of white boards, flipcharts, gaint post-it notes etc., is essential during a brainstorming session to capture and display all the ideas generated. The room should be large enough for all the participants to see other’s ideas. If the brainstorming session was to help improve a product, then it help to have the product or its mock model of the product in the room. For example while brainstorming for a marketing plan for a perfume, the session was greatly benefited by having the perfume, the competing product & associated marketing messages of the competitive products in the room.

  5. Not all the right persons are present

    For a successful brainstorming session, people who have knowledge in that area must be present. People who are present in the session must be creative individuals and must have intimate knowledge about the issue on which this session is being held. Having the righ people in the session is the key for a successful session.

Basic rules of Brainstorming

Every activity should have some rules to channel the energies in a particular direction. I agree that in a creative world, following rules is often seen as way to destroy creativity - but one must still follow the rules when needed and also know when to break the rules. In general the rules to follow for a successful brainstorming session are:

  1. Go for quantity

    More ideas the better. Encourage all participants to propose as many ideas as possbile. Do not limit the number of ideas being presented.

  2. Encourage wild ideas

    There should be no limits on the ideas, encourage all ideas irrespecitve of its feasibility. It has been found that the wild ideas often has its roots in a practical day-to-day issues and other participants can build on such wild ideas
  3. Be visual

    Demonstrate the idea if possible instead of describing it in words. Drawing an idea on the board or making a visual prototype or illustration is worth the efforts - as the saying goes "A picture is worth thousand words" Creative individuals often tend to think visually and can associate themselves with an visual rather than a verbal description.

  4. Defer judgement

    There are no bad ideas or good ideas in a brainstorming session. Participants must not make comments or judgements on the ideas being presented. Creative ideas are like new borm babies, it needs protection from initial judgement. Ideas need protection and nourishment to become a strong force later.

  5. One conversation at a time

    Having more than one conversation at a time is the surest way to waste time & resources in a meeting. Brainstorming session is no different. All participants must maintain their focus on the task and refrain from engaging in other activities during the session.

  6. Build on other people’s ideas

    Participants must be encouraged to build on other people’s ideas. Moderator must ensure that participants do not feel that their ideas are being plagiarized when other members build on their idea. The key here is to set an environment where one feels free to copy from other person’s idea in a brainstorming session.

These rules are ment to be followed and broken as and when required. The moderator should know when to enforce the rules and when to have exceptions and break the rules.

Seven steps for effective brainstorming

Brainstorming has become so wide spread that people have almost made it a standardized process. In the book "The Ten Faces of Innovation", the author Tom Kelly writes about seven steps for effective brainstorming. Tom is a General Manager at IDEO - a design firm that has developed several hundreds of innovative products. BusinessWeek rates IDEO as one of the top innovative firms in the world. ( I would recommend reading his book if you are interested in knowing about innovation)

  1. Sharpen your focus

    Brainstorming session to solve a particular problem must have the problem statement well defined. A vaguely defined problem statement or a vague objective will lead the participants to stray and waste time & energy during the session.
  2. Mind the playground rules

    Participants should be aware of the ground rules for that session. Participants must also know that they are expected to follow the rules and they can break the rules only when there is a strong reason to do so.

  3. Number your ideas

    This is a simple step, but often not practiced. When capturing the ideas on a board or on paper, number the ideas instead of using bullet points. This helps the participants to quote an idea - "The idea/suggestion No.6 can be improved by ....." This helps in better documentation and aids in better facilitation of the process.

  4. Jump & build

    Participants should take an active role during the session. Participants must be encouraged to draw/sketch their ideas or even build a crude model from the available materials (pens, pencils, paper, tape, pins, clips, wires etc.) This visual display will encourage more ideas from participants and lead to greater number of ideas

  5. Remember to use the space

    If the session is held in a fairly large room, use all the space available to display all the ideas - either on boards, flip charts, paper models etc.

  6. Stretch First

    Brainstorming is a mental exercise. Just like athletes stretch before the game/race, participants should also do the same. Some participants like to stretch out their bodies, draw deep breaths, first. I would recommend that participants do some homework the night before the meeting and come prepared for the session. In addition, it will be very useful if the moderator can start off the session with a simple mind stretching exercise. I would recommend doing an exercise of random word analogy or forced comparison etc., among all the participants before starting the session.

  7. Get Physical

    Having some physical activity during the session is very important. It has been observed that participants who have some physical activity often generate more ideas in the session than the people who are confined to the chairs. Some physical activity encourages people to think better - I call it "Thinking on the foot".

Use multiple tools

Brainstorming technique can further be improved upon by utilizing it with other creative tools. Brainstorming is best when it is used to generate ideas, but the process can be improved upon when brain storming is combined with other creative tools such as:

  • Multi-voting
  • Lotus Blossom
  • Six Thinking Hats®
  • Lateral Thinking ®
I will write more about these tools later in this blog. These tools are used to refine the ideas generated during the brainstorming session and it helps to select the ones for implementation.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Unleashing Creativity: Common mind blocks

BusinessWeek conducts an annual survey of the most Innovative companies in the world. The results of this year’s (2007) survey lists the top 50 Innovative companies. As expected most of the companies are from the US, followed by Japan & Europe. And not surprisingly, none of the Indian & Chinese companies made it to this list. The results were not surprising because Indian & Chinese companies are not perceived as innovative companies and most companies in India consider themselves as not a creative organization.

Recently, I was talking to a group of engineers in Bangalore. When I asked them the question: "How many of you consider yourself as creative individuals?" No one responded. All of them agreed that they are not creative individuals. Therefore it is not surprising if the company that employs them also perceives itself as a non-creative, non-innovation firm. This does not mean that this company cannot become innovative, in fact this company has been very innovative: they provide design services to all leading aircraft engine manufactures in US & Europe and to all leading commercial aircraft manufacturers. The company has developed a very innovative business model and is a leading aerospace design service provider in India.

The problem here was that the engineers have a major mind block towards creativity. The engineers have developed a mindset that they are not creative because they do not have any artistic inclinations like music, painting, writing, etc.

This organization has more than 1000 bright & intelligent engineers who can bring tremendous value if they can unleash their creativity. Top management knows the problem it has and had
invited me to infuse some creativity to bring about a structured problem solving within that organization.

The main problem I saw here was that of self perception - engineers who are creative but perceive themselves as not. Engineers routinely come up with creative solutions for the current problems, but lack the conviction to implement it.

Fortunately, there are several known & proven methods to enhance creativity in an organization. In this case the first step I had to do was to identify the mental barriers to creativity and then encourage the participants to over come those barriers through a series of exercises.

Most Common Mental Blocks to Creativity

The first step towards identifying the mental barriers was to conduct a survey - a psychometric test. This is an intensive 400+ questionnaire which probes various aspects of the person’s perceptions towards creativity. The results of this survey shows the major mind blocks of each individual. These results are then used to develop a custom workshop to help participants overcome their mind blocks and unleash their creativity.

Most of the mind blocks people have w.r.t creativity can be classified into ten common cases:
  1. The right answer
    Years spent at school & college has forced people to think that there is only one right answer. But in a creative world, there are no wrong answers.

  2. That’s not logical
    People are forced to think in a logical way at engineering schools and at work, so often times people do not even think beyond their rational logical reasoning.

  3. Follow the rules
    This is a classic. For all adults, following the rules is the way of life - and breaking the rules is almost a crime. So when it comes to creative thinking, people tend to follow their own perceived rules - and that destroys creativity.

  4. Be practical
    This is again a strong learning from school & college days. Engineers are always taught to be practical and think of only the things that can be done today. This destroys the imagination and the ability to dream of things - even though its not possible with current technological limitations.

  5. Play is frivolous
    Playfulness, an integral component of childhood is often left behind in the school. People lose their sense of humor and tend to think of playing games as childish behavior.

  6. That’s not my area
    Thanks to all the specialization that exist in education. Electrical engineering, Civil engineering, Mechanical engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Accounting etc., all are treated as a special branch of education. So when a person comes out of college, he/she does not want to deal with things which are outside his area of specialization.

  7. Avoid ambiguity
    All along childhood, parents taught their children to avoid ambiguity, kids are taught to give clear answers and ambiguity is not tolerated. Even as adults we tend to have a distinct dislike for ambiguity. Unfortunately, creativity thrives in an ambiguous environment.

  8. Don’t be foolish
    Adults are expected to look intelligent and smart. Anything foolish is often ridiculed. But when a person comes up with a creative idea, he/she is afraid to talk about it for the fear of appearing foolish. This fear will eventually kill the creative idea.

  9. Don't make mistakes
    Avoiding mistakes is deeply embedded in human mind from early stage. The fear of making mistakes prevents people from experimenting and failing. Thus people avoid trying our creative ideas.

  10. I am not creative
    The final and the biggest mind block people have is a self developed belief that they are not creative, and hence they don't even try to think of any creative ideas. For example, I tend to think of myself as artistically challenged when it comes to paintings - so I do not try my hand in painting. If I continue with that belief, I will never become a painter.

Individuals often exhibit all these mind blocks to various degrees. Knowing the levels or degrees of these mind blocks is the first essential step in overcoming their mind blocks. Therefore the results of the survey is then shared with all the participants - i.e., the results are not confidential within the participants of the workshop. Sharing these mental blocks in a workshop helps participants break out of their existing barriers and try to become creative.