The Anatomy of Invention (Dr. Larry Howell)

Pursuing its mission to inspire the BYU community to life-long innovation, the Creativity, Innovation, and Design group selects and highlights compelling BYU speeches on creativity, innovation, design, invention, and entrepreneurship.

Enjoy the BYU Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecture by Dr. Larry Howell delivered on May 17, 2016 “The Anatomy of Invention.” (36:28).

The Anatomy of Invention (Dr. Larry Howell)

Without Compulsory Means (Dr. Stephen Liddle)

Pursuing its mission to inspire the BYU community to life-long innovation, the Creativity, Innovation, and Design group selects and highlights compelling BYU speeches on creativity, innovation, design, invention, and entrepreneurship.

Enjoy Dr. Stephen Liddle’s speech “Without Compulsory Means” delivered on May 3, 2016.

Without Compulsory Means (Dr. Stephen Liddle)

A Surprising Solution for Innovating through Experimentation

Innovation is a core skill of the 21st century. Innovation is about discovering previously unknown problems and providing sustainable solutions to those problems or discovering new solutions to known problems.

During the past two decades a number of influential books have championed the skills of innovation such as The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution, The Innovator’s DNA, and The Innovator’s Method. These books identify strategies innovators should pursue, qualities that constitute successful innovators, and methods for translating these skills into sustainable business models.

Essential to the innovator’s abilities is experimentation.

Individuals and businesses that conduct simple, fast, frugal experiments will more quickly discover previously unknown problems and solutions. In today’s fast paced environment of competition and change, being a successful experimenter can prove to be the competitive edge needed to stay at the forefront of success.

So, “how can simple, fast, frugal experiments drive innovation?”

Simple experiments are ones that test the most relevant, applicable characteristics of a problem.

Fast experiments are those that can be conducted in a matter of hours, days, or weeks.

Frugal experiments are those that cost very little to design, implement, and interpret.

Accelerate innovation through competitive experimentation teams, using what is called a 5x5 X-team approach.

“The 5x5 X-team approach is a rapid innovation methodology emphasizing lightweight, high-impact experimentation, as follows: Give a diverse team of 5 people no more than 5 days to come up with a portfolio of 5 business experiments that cost no more than $5,000 (each) and take no longer than 5 weeks to run. The willingness to ask simple questions is essential. Simplicity invites ingenuity. The 5x5 offers a fast, cheap, and ingenious method for innovators to revisit-and test- business fundamentals safely. Simple questions about customer segmentation, sales, pricing, performance, and language inspire successful, high-impact hypotheses.”

Businesses seeking to scale their innovative potential may find the 5x5 X-team approach a promising business strategy to achieve greater innovation and success.

Taylor Halverson, Ph.D.

(Some of the ideas for this article are based on the book The Innovator’s Hypothesis: How Cheap Experiments are Worth More than Good Ideas by Michael Schrage.)

A Surprising Solution for Innovating through Experimentation

13 Ideas to Increase Your Creativity & Innovation

Do you want to be more creative?  Do you want to see more of your innovative ideas take flight?  Do you see an opportunity to solve a significant problem or tackle an issue that has not been resolved satisfactorily?  Do you find your imagination sparked and you want that fanned into a lively flame?  Are you one who wants to solve pressing social problems, build something that matters to other people, accomplish a wildly audacious goal, inspire others, or make the world a better place?

What do innovation experts say?

According to Tina Seelig, Professor of Management Science & Engineering at Stanford University “The Invention Cycle” (as detailed in her book InsightOut) is composed of four elements that build upon each other in order:

  1. Imagination requires active engagement and the ability to envision alternatives.
  2. Creativity requires motivation and experimentation to address challenges.
  3. Innovation requires focusing and reframing to generate unique solutions.
  4. Entrepreneurship requires persistence and the ability to inspire others.

One must begin with imagination, with conceiving possibilities, then creatively experiment to discover potential solutions.  However, the first answer is not usually the right answer.  So in the innovation stage one seeks to reframe the problem in order to unlock new possible solutions.  Finally, when one has determined viable solutions, an entrepreneurial venture can launch the solution. 

Entrepreneurship is not simply about creating a money-making venture, but rather about using rigorous processes to scale up the delivery of a viable solution to a real need.  The process of entrepreneurship can be applied to non-profit, government, health-care, education, or any human endeavor that has the potential to be improved, such as family relationships and personal improvement.

Other innovation experts, Jeff Dyer (BYU Business Professor) and Nathan Furr (INSEAD Business Professor), suggest the following four steps to be more innovative.

  1. Step 1: Insight: Savor Surprises. Leverage questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting—to search broadly for insights about problems worth solving.”
  2. Step 2: Problem: Discover the Job to be Done. Rather than starting with solutions, start by deeply exploring the customers’ need or problem—the functional, social, and emotional job to be done—to be sure you’re going after a problem worth solving.”
  3. Step 3: Solution: Prototype the Minimum Awesome Product. Instead of developing full scale products, leverage multiple virtual prototypes to explore many solution dimensions, then iterate on each solution to develop a minimum viable prototype and eventually a minimum awesome product—one that truly delights on a particular dimension.”
  4. Step 4: Business Model: Validate the Go-to-Market Strategy. Once you’ve nailed the solution, you’re ready to validate the other components of the business model, including the pricing strategy, the customer acquisition strategy, and the cost structure strategy.”

(The quotes above are drawn from this Forbes article).

More insights can be found in Dyer’s and Furr’s book The Innovator’s Method, which builds on Dr. Dyer’s previous book, The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators (co-authored with Hal Gregerson and Clayton Christensen).  Through many interviews with CEOs of some of the most successfully innovative companies, the authors of The Innovator’s DNA discovered that innovators practice the following five skills:

  1. Questioning (asking questions that challenge common wisdom).
  2. Observing (scrutinizing behaviors to identify new ways of doing things).
  3. Networking (meeting people with different ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives).
  4. Experimenting (constructing interactive experiences that provoke unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge).
  5. Associating (connecting the unconnected across questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields).

The Innovator’s DNA is an excellent resource to guide the practice of generating innovative ideas.  However, The Innovator’s DNA does not explain the process of taking innovative ideas through the various stages of validation whereby a great idea is launched successfully into the marketplace through a sustainable business model.  Thus, Professors Furr and Dyer authored The Innovator’s Method to fill that gap. 

Happy innovating!

Taylor Halverson, Ph.D.

13 Ideas to Increase Your Creativity & Innovation

5 Lessons in Innovation from TEDxBYU

There’s nothing like a custom event lanyard to make you feel official. Thus, with my official TEDxBYU lanyard, sitting in the Covey Center auditorium for the official TEDxBYU event, I was feeling, well, official.

Until doubts started to creep in.

I want to change the world someday. How? I don’t know yet, exactly. But sitting there surrounded by bright BYU students and reading the accolades of those on the program, I began to feel a bit small in comparison. How can normal people without a fancy title make a difference from where they are? The answers came, unsurprisingly, from the talks themselves in the form of five simple principles.

  1. Begin with compassion. Matt Taylor, who leads strategy and operations at, a nonprofit firm that “focuses on applying human-centered design to poverty-related challenges,” defined compassion as “empathy and the desire and will to do something about it.” Compassion is seeing the people around us, feeling empathy for the problems they face, and wanting to act on those feelings. The first step to changing the world is having the desire to do so.
  2. Break your silence. One of the TED talk videos played at the event was by slam poetry champion and teacher Clint Smith, who said, “Silence is the residue of fear…Who has to have a soapbox when all you’ve ever needed is your voice?” Those who wish to make a difference must break their silence, find their voice, and join the conversation about the problems they want to solve. Talk to one person at a time and get involved in issues you care about.
  3. Implement simple solutions. Nicolas Fusso, a social entrepreneur, stressed the fact that inventions don’t become innovations until they reach the people they are meant to help. Therefore, being an innovator is sometimes as simple as getting a proven solution to the people who need it, like decreasing malaria outbreaks by distributing mosquito nets in hard-to-reach places, for example. The takeaway? Don’t disregard simple solutions, and be tenacious when implementing them.
  4. Figure out who your Maestro is. Percussionist Casey Cangelosi played an inventive cymbal piece incorporating background voices, irregular rhythms, and words on a screen. The situation of the piece was a performer auditioning to play for an exacting maestro, and it became less clear as the piece went on whether the maestro was an actual person or the performer’s own self-critical thoughts. Thus, the maestros to listen to–whether they be other voices or the voices in your head–are the ones who encourage you to reach your goals.
  5. Be persistent. Social entrepreneur Jane Leu remarked that “what masquerades as a good idea is often strong execution and years of persistence.” Got a good idea? Be flexible, but stick with it.

I came out of this event with the realization that the people with titles were just people–but people who cared enough to act. The definition of an innovator is someone who cares enough to act, and those who act make a difference.

Ariel Szuch is an English major (BA ‘15) and editing minor with an appetite for innovation, intelligent conversation, and Cadbury mini eggs. She is the project manager for and assistant web director for Mormon Insights.
Photo courtesy of Lawrence Wang on Flickr under the CC BY-SA 2.0 License.

Communities of Innovation

In our Video Abstract Series, we talk with BYU faculty members who have interesting projects, classes, or research focused on creativity, innovation, design thinking, or interdisciplinary collaboration.

In our first Video Abstract, we talk with Dr. Rick West, Assistant Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology.  In this video, Dr. West talks about the framework he developed for communities of innovation.  In this framework, Dr. West identifies both individual and organization level characteristics that help spur innovation within a community.  An update to his framework will be published later in this year in TechTrends.

To read Dr. West’s 2009 paper on Communities of Innovation, visit:

DropThought: Feedback on College Courses Right Here, Right Now

Ever been told by a professor in a class to “hold that thought”? Well, Michael Atkisson, a graduate student in Instructional Psychology and Technology at BYU, would say to drop it. 

DropThought is a two-way instant feedback system that allows students to give instructors anonymous, real-time feedback on their learning. With the DropThought mobile app or LMS widget, students leave feedback spontaneously or as prompted by their instructors in a simple three-step process: select an assignment, enter a comment and a sentiment that represents their overall experience, and click “Submit Feedback.” 

Instructors can see and respond to anonymous comments, sort comments by topic, and track trends by viewing sentiments over time, among other features.

Michael Atkisson didn’t set out with the intent to work on this revolutionary new system; rather, his road to DropThought was more indirect. Atkisson was working for Stanford’s graduate school of business as an instructional designer creating MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses, a learning format where tens of thousands of students take a single course at the same time, often from a well-known instructor—when the DropThought team reached out to him because they needed someone with expertise in learning and training for a large project with Starbucks. At the time, DropThought was providing instant customer feedback to business owners and managers in hospitality and dining. Atkisson, who had been looking for an opportunity in product development, took the project, but also saw the potential for DropThought to be utilized in higher education. Soon after the beginning of the project, he left Stanford to build a new business line for the early stage startup. DropThought was going to college.

DropThought equips online instructors with a system that allows students to give honest, real-time feedback on specific areas of their learning, which, according to Atkisson, provides great benefit to both student and instructor. “Professors get questions that students are normally too timid to ask. I see it as a real potential safety net for those who are new to what school is and haven’t figured out what it means to be a student yet. On the other side of things, what the instructor gets is a new playing field of data that is very different from anything that is out there today,” he observed.


Much course feedback today comes from students either through self-identified means (emails, face to face, etc.), which restricts candidness, or through surveys, which happen after the course is completed and tend to have low student participation. In many cases, little is done with such feedback. Conversely, DropThought lets students reflect on their learning or say what they need to throughout the course, leading to higher participation and more ownership of their learning all along the way. Instructors can then respond to that feedback and pinpoint areas for improvement as the course progresses. Atkisson said, “It’s one thing to receive a comment here and there about unclear instructions in an assignment, but it’s another when you have feedback from all your students on the assignment and 70% thought the instructions were unclear.” In addition, the institutions that subscribe to DropThought can get a better analysis of what students struggle with and what they respond well to. “I really see this as a watershed tool,” says Atkisson. “We can make use of this information in the right way by the right people.”

As DropThought grows in higher ed, the big idea is to use the large-scale, anonymous, real-time student feedback it collects for administrators to shape cross-institutional benchmarks and for instructors to more effectively tailor their syllabus to student need and interest. Since the launch of its higher education campaign several weeks ago, DropThought has had professors from more than 20 universities, including schools like Stanford, Harvard, Old Dominion University, USC, and a variety of community colleges, take advantage of the free signup for educators to use the platform. Atkisson and the rest of the DropThought team hopes to see hundreds and even tens of thousands of professors utilize the platform to enhance the student learning experience. And the vision doesn’t stop there; efforts are in progress to expand the scope of DropThought into the healthcare industry, facilitating more effective communication between healthcare professionals and their patients.

When asked what advice he would give to anyone who wanted to do something innovative, Atkisson responded, “In any capacity you have as a student or professional or parent or member of the church, there are always ways to do things better. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of room to innovate, but you can take to those areas with a lot of pride. To be anxiously engaged with your cause is to be fresh and innovative in the things you want to accomplish. Innovation is not an event; it’s an approach to life.”

 Michael Atkisson is a doctoral student in the Instructional Psychology and Technology Department at BYU, but currently lives in California with his lovely wife and three wonderful children. He is the senior director in product and business development for DropThought and wrote his dissertation on semantic analysis of real-time student feedback.

Nail It Then Scale It

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation

Why do most new businesses fail, yet a few entrepreneurs have a habit of winning over and over again? The shocking discovery of years of research and trial is that most startups fail by doing the “right things,” but doing them out of order. In other words, human nature combined with our entrepreneurial drive puts us on autopilot to become part of the 70% to 90% of ventures that fail. ​ From Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, the Nail It Then Scale It method is based on pattern recognition of the timeless principles and key practices used by successful entrepreneurs to repeatedly innovate. These processes and principles have now been distilled into a handbook to guide entrepreneurs and innovative product managers to victory. Stop following conventional wisdom and join the few entrepreneurs that can consistently take their innovative idea all the way to a successful company launch.

The Innovator's DNA

From Idea to Impact

You can be as innovative and impactful — if you can change your behaviors to improve your creative impact. In The Innovator’s DNA, authors Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and bestselling author Clayton M. Christensen (The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution) build on what we know about disruptive innovation to show how individuals can develop the skills necessary to move progressively from idea to impact. ​ By identifying behaviors of the world’s best innovators — from leaders at Amazon and Apple to those at Google, Skype, and Virgin Group — the authors outline five discovery skills that distinguish innovative entrepreneurs and executives from ordinary managers: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking, and Experimenting. Once you master these competencies, the authors explain how you can generate ideas, collaborate with colleagues to implement them, and build innovation skills throughout your organization to sharpen its competitive edge.

Innovation 101

Promoting Undergraduate Innovation Through a Two-Day Boot Camp

Over the years many training methods for creativity and innovation have been developed. Despite these programs and research, further improvement is necessary, particularly in schools of technology and engineering education, where previous efforts have focused on developing solutions to defined problems, not in identifying and defining the problems themselves in ways that promote creative outcomes. This study presents initial efforts to develop an instructional program designed to teach innovation to undergraduate technology and engineering students. Results from a pre/posttest analysis using both the Torrance Tests for Creative Thinking and a survey with self-reported data indicate that the Innovation Boot Camp was successful because it (a) encapsulated innovation into a process that students could learn and apply, (b) engaged students in multidisciplinary groups, and (c) provided a hands-on, activities-oriented curriculum explicitly designed to enhance innovation. Notwithstanding, ideas for improvement and further research and development of the curriculum are described.

To take this one credit, intensive, hands-on, active learning, fully immersive Innovation Boot Camp course, look for Tech 312 in the BYU catalog.  This may be one of the most fun, useful one-credit classes you’ll ever take.