By Subho Moulik, Global Head of Innovation – Whirlpool Corporation
The language of innovation describes the future. It wrestles with concepts consumers haven’t even begun to ponder, and describes needs they don’t realize they have. This future can be nebulous – but language is precise. Bridging that divide is a challenge for teams at bellwethers like Whirlpool Corporation, as well as startups with new ideas.
To move from idea to innovation you have to be able to “pay out” in three separate currencies – insight, creativity and validation. These currencies help keep the language of ideas grounded in reality while imagining the future. Start with the identification (and exploration) consumer needs. Continue with the spark and passion that creates a striking new idea. And close with rapid (but tough) validation of potential solutions – ones that allow you to either succeed or fail quickly.
With insights in hand, every employee has a role to play in problem-solving. From structured brainstorms and “always on” ideation, to sprints and hackathons, we keep our creative juices flowing but our rhetoric simple to avoid unrealistic hyperbole. For example, at a Whirlpool India hackathon in April, over 100 engineers and marketers built the future from scratch over 3 days and created more than 40 new concepts. In the words of Kapil Agarwal, our marketing leader for India, “the Hackathon was an amazing experience. It was heartening to see the passion and energy in the room with over 100 people making their ideas real over a few days. It reinforced to me that innovation is not a privilege, but a right for every employee at Whirlpool Corporation and every idea is valuable as long as it generates value.”
I was recently at the MIT IDEAS competition in Boston and it was refreshing to see all three currencies being utilized in abundance across the 40 projects that were evaluated and judged. The top prize was awarded to Hey, Charlie, a team fighting the opioid-addiction epidemic in Massachusetts and across the nation with a behavioral modification app for people struggling with addiction. For a full list of projects and winners please visit MIT News.
Christian Gianni, SVP Product Development & Technology at Whirlpool Corporation, was also at IDEAS and gave his take on the competition:
“Innovation is all about coming up with creative and practical solutions to real world problems. At IDEAS, the problems in focus were big ones! I was thrilled to see how the teams clearly articulated their problem insights, created some truly amazing solutions, and then put those solutions to the test. The passion with which these teams approached their challenges and what they delivered was inspiring.”
Validation takes our insights and creativity and truly gets to the heart of what Whirlpool Corporation does – we make things better for consumers. In the past calendar year alone, WLabs of Whirlpool Corporation has brought different innovative products to market that make our consumers’ lives better in different ways. One of these was Zera™, a food recycler that was the darling of CES this year. Throughout the development process of innovations like Zera system , we didn’t need to rely on abstract language or metaphors to outline the future. Rather, the language was grounded in the currency of validation through prototyping and repeated testing.
Ultimately the language of innovation is translating ideas into action. Our 3 currencies of insight, creativity, and validation keep the future from being too abstract, and allows us to create products that help consumers and their families – and that’s why we all wake up and come to work.