Visions and consequently major innovations are molded by the technical and human revolutions that industries live in. In a time when just one big industrial revolution existed, every company simply had to follow the common path (see production automation in the 60’s-70’s). The 20th century car industry was a good example. Then Internet technology came onto the scene (more complex and diverse than the web from the early 2000’s) and the thread for innovation is no longer so straight forward.

There are new super tools. The Internet of things is like a magic pen for current companies.  From retail and manufacturing to services and new technologies each firm can draw a rather diverse future: “To infinity… and beyond!”

Tesla is the new age’s innovation paradigm

In recent years the company Tesla has set a new paradigm for innovation. A car manufacturer turned into a software company. Its cars are used rather than owned. And driving is being secured by algorithms backed by a vast network of geographically distributed data.

Ideas, as random as they may look do not happen by chance.

That sounds tempting. So the question to any innovator is: what would it take to innovate in Tesla’s fashion in any other industry? The answer has four important components.

First, there’s the idea of reframing which is very complicated to pursue, even for the trained innovator.

Second, the dimensions of the innovation challenge are not for a sole person, as you know, geniuses are scarce.

Third, complexity has an intermediary role, but the new innovation end is (without hesitation) to produce smarter products. So this is really a quest for simplicity.

For this last point, let’s look again at the automotive industry. In the scenario of the 60’s and 70’s it was a person’s driving skills that made a car dangerous to other people. Fifty years later, we are facing cars like Tesla’s, where the vehicle decides when the drive is safe enough without human intervention. Deconstruction of the car concept has led to a simpler idea of a car.

At last number four, here is where visual thinking techniques can be used.

Innovation card game

Let’s play a little visual game. Imagine you and your team holding the following set of cards. Let’s say that cards are numbered 1 to 7 and each has different discussion entries written like these:

  1. Tell me how you would use it
  2. Tell me how it would work
  3. Tell me why
  4. Tell me where it should happen
  5. Tell me who would do it
  6. Any other things worth mentioning
  7. Tell me what it would be (a card that would help you put together the new concept)

Now you may fancy playing with Elon Musk (Tesla’s CEO). I will briefly explain how we will get to a new concept of a car.

First it is compulsory we delete the definition of what a car does from our blackboard. Let the cards tell you instead.

Rules and instructions for a first game

You and your team read aloud the first prompt and start questioning “what the car would be like”. Confronted with card 1 profs might go for things like “safe for all drivers including bad drivers”. Or more climate-change-conscious answers like “does not contribute to carbon emissions”. Write them all down.

The game then gets your imagination to spin around the how’s, why’s, where’s and who’s. Fifteen to twenty minutes for each numbered card is sufficient. At number seven if you have difficulty to say what the thing would be, that means you need to give it another round.

After a few games you will discover there is a card (or two) that has been taking up most of your discussion time. You could see them as the cards that reveal the future. The more serious reflection a card has generated, the more options the topic has to be your particular source of innovation.

Resuming our little car re-framing game, the Elon Muskers in your team might have been pretty happy dwelling upon card 2. They think that if bots are good enough for guiding us through maps, providing answers like a help system and many other things, then couldn’t data-based-algorithms derive safer driving decisions?

Other more traditional innovation paths for the car industry would re-frame from card number 5 (prompt: Tell me who would do it) and consumer target segments.

The game ends at the exact moment you can tell what the new thing would be. If it cannot be named, it cannot be sketched.

The big lesson of this game is that ideas as random as they may look do not happen by chance. A particular card may mark an unexpected origin for your innovation which is outside your usual industry reach. Just like the Internet of Things has signaled the innovation move in Tesla vehicle division.

Now, are you ready for a game?

By Marta Domínguez

About the author

Innovation educator, startup advisor, strategy consultant and innovation thinker. Professor of innovation at IE Business School. Professor of technology and e-commerce at ICEX – Economy Ministry Spain.Marta Domínguez is the director of i-Thread Consulting, a strategy consultancy that helps companies and startups get it right on innovation and digital businesses models. Her firm works for clients in Spain and other countries of Europe.

She has been working around innovation technology and Internet since 1994. She became team leader at Bell Labs in The Netherlands. She later served as executive for new mobile businesses at Vodafone, and was a board level representative on a multimedia strategy project for Vodafone Global.

Marta has a Masters degree in Telecom Engineering and holds an AMP from IE, is a Stanford Venture Lab student. She is the author of Innovación 2.0 en La Empresa (Spanish Edition). Her blog El hilo de Innovación has been named on Top 100 blogs about innovation in Spanish by