The human vocabulary with millions of words is adequate to explain all of our expectations and experiences, even those which are imagined. Why not harness the power of language to discover new products and services? Author Shanta R Yapa shares the Innovation Tautogram technique, which can be used as an individual or a group exercise.

Humans around the world use millions of words in thousands of languages to explain and communicate their attitudes, emotions, anxiety, aspirations, etc. Experiences, irrespective of whether they are actual or desired, are already in the vocabulary of different languages but not available to us as actual products, features and processes. We have words to describe any unidentified flying object if seen suddenly, a creature not seen hitherto on the earth, an out of the world feeling a product can offer, a need felt, etc. Use this powerful brainstorming technique to mine your vocabulary database in a random way to bridge the gap between what is real and what is imagined.

Tendency to think rationally

Most of us spend many years learning things pertaining to our own disciplines. Therefore, our minds are trained and framed to think logically or rationally within those domains. Coming out of the box makes us feel uncomfortable. We are afraid, or simply not bothered to challenge the concepts, principles or theories we learn at the beginning of our professions. Rigidity is thus inherited and embedded into our thinking process, restricting our thoughts only to compartments we are familiar with. We tend to take things for granted. Based on predefined assumptions, we come to conclusions without proper examination of current issues. We tend to think that ‘it works this way only,’ which compels us to continue down the same old paths. We must break these mental silos and think creatively in order to innovate.

Break the continuity. Think differently.

Regular advice I give to my students in the MBA class is to think differently. We always respect and appreciate the work of the scholars who introduced popular concepts such as the 4Ps (Product, Price, Place & Promotion) and 7Ps (People, Processes and Physical Evidence added to 4Ps) in marketing. But, why don’t we find our own ways of defining, analyzing, exploring and exploiting things?

Try with the letter C

People outside the domain or any novice handling an unfamiliar product can come across exiting innovation opportunities with this technique.

What if we attempt to describe something, a product or a process, using the letter “C”? In other words, replace P with C in a sensible manner. Does it look crazy? No, it is not. You will be surprised to see the spectrum of words, the divergence, the breadth and the depth it can show us. Each feature, factor or facet can lead to an innovation opportunity. Remember the opportunities are not limited to innovations. Clustering of words or dropping any word due to similarity is not desired, as it can limit the opportunities to innovate.

Look at the following words which came to my mind while compiling this article. (If you played the game, Scrabble during your childhood you will have an edge in this exercise. Otherwise, you can use a popular dictionary.)

Commodity, Customer, Cost, Channels, Contribution, Communication, Choice, Cosmetics, Churn, Claims, Customization, Competition, Collaboration, Core-concept, Configuration, Co-creation, Core-competence, Consumption, Composition, Chemistry, Challenges, Community, Compactness, Complexity, Compatibility, Compromise, Correction, Complaints, Cohesiveness, Connectivity, Color, Cover, Coverage, Capacity, Creativity, Curiosity, Craziness, Continuity, Covenants, Conditions, Consent, Collateral, Collection……

This list of words starting with the letter C can go further. Did you ever think that the list would exceed 40 words? If you continue to ask the question ‘why’ several times in respect to each factor of importance, you will essentially see an array of opportunities to innovate. However, if the above list is too long you may use Pareto Law: select a vital few leaving the trivial many.

Let’s see whether this list makes sense and what innovation opportunities it can show us. Think of a term loan from a bank as the product we need to innovate. Out of the above list, 17 words can assist us to see innovation opportunities. The words are commodity (the loan or the package of credit facilities), customer (individual or entity who will be the borrower), cost (meaning the interest, commissions, penalty charges and any front-end fees), channels (not only distribution but also awareness, evaluation, purchase and after sales channels), contribution, communication, choice, churn, claims, customization, co-creation (allowing the client to join the feasibility study, packaging the loan and even monitoring/follow up), core-competence (to add more value to end users, broaden your market opportunities and make it difficult for competitors to imitate), composition ( how you design the package, structuring the repayment, long term and revolving credit, draw-down or disbursement plan etc.), covenants ( to ensure the proceeds are utilized as agreed, retain the customer interests on the project, maintain the agreed gearing ratio etc.), consent, collateral and collection (recovery process of the loan).

Instead of looking at the product in the conventional way, where you rarely see room for change, the list of words through the innovation tautogram can lead to many possibilities between incremental to disruptive innovations.

More examples

We will next select few random products and letters to better understand the technique.

Example 1: Mobile Phone, Selected letter: V
Visual, Visibility, Vividness, Vivify, Verifying, Versatility, Ventilation, Vacate, Vigilance, Value, Vendor, Virtual, Vindictive, Vitrify, Vicarious, Vouch, Vulnerability, Voice, Volatile, Volume, Voltage, Vitality, Visitors, Video, View, Viable, Vibrate, Vapor, Variable, Variance

The underlined words show innovation opportunities such as features or functionalities that are not yet available. Readers may attempt to further explore the shortlisted words in a sensible manner so that innovations are possible. Does it make sense by selecting the word vigilance as a guide to improve a mobile phone? Yes. Mobile phones thus far do not have a vigilance function. Imagine if your phone had the capability to wake you up if there was a gas leak or smoke in your house while you were sleeping. Would you like your mobile phone to give you warnings when you drive at high speeds? Would you expect your mobile phone to prevent you from driving when it detects that you are drunk? The list can continue.

Innovators can use other existing tools, if necessary, to guide them once few areas are short listed through innovation tautogram.

Example 2: A perfume, Selected letter: R
Reassuring, Refill, Residues, Resistance, Readiness, Recipe, Reliability, Removable, Repeat, Refresh, Restore, Reinforce, Remedy, Reduce, Recycle, Recognize, Rash, Reactive, Rank, Rapid, Rain-proof, Rack, Reasonable, Rationale

The above words can direct a manufacturer to a new innovation space which has not been explored before. People outside the domain or any novice handling an unfamiliar product can come across exiting innovation opportunities through this technique.

From the subject example, think of adding a new attribute to the existing hair cream by selecting the word ‘rain-proof’ so that you can easily differentiate your product. Innovators may carry out further examinations by using existing techniques such as benchmarking, product clinic, KANO model, etc. Innovation is a costly exercise and a careful analysis of the project before committing resources can avoid losses, frustration and stress.

Example 3: Automobile, Selected letter: E
Efficiency, Engine, Emissions, Effluents, Exhaust, Excitement, Endurance, Elegance, Economy, Experience, Ergonomics, Entertainment, Emergency, Emotional, Expressive, Exit, Entry, Engage, Empower, Enthusiastic, Eco-friendliness, Ego, Effect, Ease, Equipment, Escape, Expand, Experience, Extreme, Evaporate, Embed

Even if you are an automobile engineer, you may be wondering where to innovate. The Innovation Tautogram using the letter E gives many different directions for innovators to explore. Some of the areas highlighted above may already be selected as focus areas to innovate. Nevertheless, using this tool you will certainly find areas not yet explored.

For exploratory purposes, let’s select the word ‘exit’ from the above list as an innovation lead. How can it make sense for a car, where there are already several doors? Think as an innovator: how many times have you noticed scratch marks from your shoes at the bottom of the door frame, scuff plate or inner door panel of your new car? This looks ugly and is seen as careless usage when it comes to disposing of the car. True enough that we use temporary solutions such as colorless stickers. Isn’t this an area for innovation? Another word appearing in the list is ‘emotions’. Can your car recognize your emotions such as sudden acceleration or intermittent and unusual braking as a result of someone’s nasty driving? This can be a potential area for innovation.

Example 4: Hair cream, Selected letter: S
Spreading, Safe, Skin-proof, Sun proof, Surface, Shine, Shape, Squeeze, Smell, Stiffness, Sediments, Smoothness, Swift, Self-cleaning, Sweating, Scratching, Setting, Switching, Shampooing, Shipping, Storing, Size, Smoke, Side-effects,

Of the above list, think of a hair cream that is scratch-proof! That means even if you scratch your head the hair cream can maintain the hairstyle intact. It sounds crazy. However, a manufacturer will take the idea (highlighted through innovation tautogram) very seriously as an opportunity to innovate.


Did we use any theories in developing the lists? No. Do you need to remember these words? No. This needs to be instant and you need to use your instinct! This method is simple, exciting and very powerful. It can easily match or surpass the outcome you may get using complex, sophisticated, mind boggling and costly innovation tools. Using one letter at a time is the key to make it a guided exercise although free thinking is necessary. Innovation Tautogram is a universally applicable tool in any language. You can use this as an individual or as a group exercise such as brainstorming. Enjoy the innovation tautogram. I trust it will help you discover incremental and radical innovations to make the world a better place to live!

By Shanta R Yapa

About the author

Shanta R Yapa has over 30 years of experience in diverse fields of engineering, banking and general management. At present, he works for Epic Technology Group as the Chief Operating Officer of Epic Research & Innovations. He is a visiting faculty member teaching strategy, technology management and international business in postgraduate programs of over 15 local and international universities. He is the immediate past president of the Software Chapter of the Federation of IT Industry Sri Lanka (FITIS), serves in the executive council of the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance (APICTA) and acts as a member of several boards of leading universities and policy authorities. He is a certified innovation manager from Leipzig University.

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