In this installment of “Brainstorming with an [innovation] expert” we invite Matt Nelson from Hyundai. Matt has quite the resume and an amazing story. He just finished up his role as the Innovation and Technology Planner at Hyundai and is now returning to the University of Michigan to get his masters in Design Science. He’s also extremely involved in the community – focusing his efforts on paving a path for Black Engineers as the National Chairperson for the National Society of Black Engineers. Working with Matt it feels like he has 30 hours in his day.
In the interview below, you’ll get a tremendous window into the world of innovation and product development. In Matt’s explanation of “how an idea becomes a product” you’ll notice that idea generation is the fourth stage of the process. And then he breaks down the ultimate questions that must be answered before developing the product: Do customers want the product, can we make it, should we make, and how do we make it. Because Betterific and our members focus exclusively on the idea generation and concept validation phase, it’s great to get some context and understand the greater picture. Matt’s perspective is bolstered by his work in innovation, his work with IDEO, and his life experiences – we’re thankful he shared his insights.
MW: Tell us something about you that we wouldn’t know from your resume. Matt Nelson (MN): I dropped out of college in 2005 and spent several years driving trucks across the country. In 2010 my wife and I moved to England, where I coached American Football for Southampton Solent University and DJ’ed across Western Europe. (See more about Matt’s story: “No Fear, No Regrets“)
MW: Where do you look for inspiration MN: As a technology scout, I am always looking for the latest advances in technology. I read a ton of whitepapers from research institutions (Michigan, Stanford, MIT, etc.). I also read biographies to gain insight into the decision-making approach around new products and methods.
MW: Where do you think good ideas come from? MN: Good ideas come from people motivated to change the conditions (good or bad) of themselves or others.
MW: Do you believe in/use a specific product development/innovation process? MN: I believe that any methodology has to be designed to fit the culture and capability of the company. For example, HATCI uses a version of DesignThinker similar to IDEO, but because we don’t have a large pool of extreme and analogous users to pull from, our process shrinks from three months to a few days. Every company I’ve seen use DesignThinker creates their own “special sauce”, from the naming of the process phases to the helper terms that aid in brainstorming.
MW: Walk us through “how an idea becomes a product.” MN: It truly depends on the
company (size, culture, structure, etc.), but in general the following steps occur, not in any particular order
- Problem/Opportunity Identification
- Information Gathering/Observations
- Problem Restatement
- Idea Generation
- Consumer Validation (Do customers want it)
- Feasibility Study (Can we make it)
- Business Case (Should we make it)
- Process Development (How do we make it)
From there, Marketing works its magic on developing advertising campaigns, pricing and distribution channels. Manufacturing will decide on tooling (if needed) and machinery. Purchasing will source suppliers for parts, suppliers and anything else required in support of the project. Betterific Idea Generation provides an additional voice in the room when developing ideas which will ultimately need to be refined into final concepts.
MW: What impressed you most about the Betterific member base of creatives? MN: The responsiveness of members when asked probing questions about their initial Betterifs.
MW: In 5 years, what will be radically different about the auto industry and what might remain the same? MN: Low fuel prices have driven recent truck demand. A greater adoption of turbochargers have made today’s trucks as fuel efficient as some cars, so I don’t expect a heavy shift back to cars when oil prices increase. At the same time, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) increases are around the corner, so I see automakers providing drastic incentives on smaller cars to increase CAFE numbers. This will allow them to continue selling highly profitable trucks, but those trucks will increasingly have four and six cylinder engines.
The foray of tech companies into the auto industry will have significant implications for OEMS. Running a company like Ford or GM requires a significant level of capital expenditure, expertise and labor costs that tech companies traditionally attempt to avoid. I foresee more partnerships than new ventures from companies like Apple.
Want to join the Betterific community and participate in innovation challenges? Head on over to http://www.betterific.com to join. If you’re interested in running an innovation competition, check out innovation.betterific.com