SPOT — have you identified the right problem and defined it right?
Dr. Elina Kallas, Research Scholar at Harvard University; Past-University of Tartu, Chair of Entrepreneurship, Tartu, Estonia
Vidyangi S. Patil, 3X Author, Entrepreneur-in-residence, AI Fellow, Independent Researcher, Silicon Valley-San Francisco, USA
On a mid-summer day at Cambridge, after an intensive three day course on the future of imaging, the enthusiastic experts have been promised that they will do something they have never done before i.e., in a simulated environment come up with a list of opportunities for disruptive innovations just in half a day’s time! As instructed people are forming their own teams, eager to start the session…
There are multiple ways to generate ideas, but there are not many techniques available on how to create innovative ideas that eventually disrupt the market by creating a unique proposition for customers, fulfilling a need they never knew they had. Spot process is the first step of a unique bottom-up co-innovation platform conceived by Dr. Ramesh Raskar from MIT Media Lab, that unites several consequential steps into a tangible prototype. The four-step methodology (SPOT-PROBE-GROW-LAUNCH) of which the SPOT process is the first step, was being facilitated at MIT Media Lab during the summer school course.
The unique bottom-up co-innovation process consists of SPOT (link to a quick overview here): members of the innovation ecosystem generate an idea that addresses a need; PROBE involves building rough functional proofs of concepts; GROW: all collaborators combine their talent to evolve the prototypes into polished and fully functional solutions. LAUNCH phase involves the successful deployment of the solution, usually supported by REDX Lab locations like Digital Impact Square(DISQ), LVP Mitra Lab (more locations can be found here: kumbha.org).
Post-MIT course, some of our students went on to try this exercise in their own companies and we present Q&A on how the SPOT process (link to “How to” tool/template for implementing Spot process )was tried out in real life settings by one of the participants. We interviewed (Jamal Madni, Boeing) from the course and asked him to reflect on his experience.
Q: What is new about SPOT process?
A: Having a blank canvas approach, and using this, creating an ecosystem around those ideas in terms of who the stakeholders would be, who would be affected by it and effectively come up with a network of ideas within a particular area, is novel. This macro-level systematic process has more focus on broader themes, and then coming up with ideas within that theme, figuring out the interconnection and determining how they rack and stack with one another and ultimately picking the priority of ideas to potentially move forward with.
Q: Who and how might benefit from using SPOT process?
A: I have discovered that this process can be used not only by entrepreneurs but also by any team who would like to come up with new ideas. For example, in an existing large company when you’re trying to make a determination about research and development projects and you would like to prioritize different projects, that’s something that this can be applied to, directly. I think it’s also a great process for graduate students, to figure out what their dissertation should be or for companies trying to figure out what their investments should be or for politicians to figure out what their campaign should be or for directors and producers to figure out how to utilize their actors and characters in a screenplay.
Q: How did you benefit from using SPOT process?
A: The challenge that we have in Boeing is that we are a $100 billion dollar a year company with 150,000 employees. We operate in 80 different countries with multiple businesses — commercial airplanes, in defense, security, services, aftermarket platform services. We have technologies in space, in the air, on the ground and we have technologies under water. With this variety, focusing becomes a real challenge due to restrained resources. We cannot do everything and so the question is what should we be developing internally from an R&D and from a technology standpoint, how do we prioritize that? How we pick something, in fact, is more important than anything else. Just doing financial modeling of it is not going to be sufficient because there’s a lot of assumptions. SPOT process can be used to prioritize development projects. In our SPOT exercise at Boeing, instead of stakeholders we used the actual business units as for interconnectivity elements and studied how they will be impacted by that particular project.
Q: What challenges did you face running the SPOT process?
A: The challenge we run into when we try out the SPOT exercise in a real-world setting is that not everyone is aligned. A priority for one business unit may not be a priority for another. So when trying to make an interconnectivity map, it should be considered that knowledge and information are not equally distributed. Secondly, it should be taken into account that companies operate in the context of imperfect communication: not everybody knows what’s going on with other parts of the company. The third challenge is urgency for some business units new technology is going to be important in 10 years, in some projects it should be applied in three months. So, the three main challenges are alignment, communication and urgency.
Q: How does the SPOT process evolve?
A: The SPOT process was good in terms of spotting who the stakeholders are for an idea, and who is going to be impacted by this idea. Oftentimes it happens that people fall in love with the idea so much that they end up becoming a little insular. They don’t take a step back early enough to say who is really going to be impacted, in bringing in an element of objectivity to their analysis. Bringing in a defined ecosystem, and drawing out interconnections between stakeholders, forces all parties to take a step back and analyze the impact an idea might or might not have. The SPOT process helps validate the scope and the legitimacy of the idea in the light of the different stakeholders on a graph and figure out, how they’re interconnected and how they’re going to be impacted.
The summer school at MIT Media Lab is over, but not its impact on participants and their activities. Jamal Madni is one very good example of how SPOT process echoed in his own professional experience.