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Monday, December 19, 2005

Objective Strategies

The title of this blog has nothing to do with Ayn Rand and the notion of "objectivism" that got promulgated by that series of cult fiction books. Actually, I believe that the Randians have co-opted the idea of objectivity well beyond the rational and dry technical meaning of the term into some sort of libertarian calling card, giving it some unfortunate connotations.

Simply put, in the systems engineering world, (1) objective evaluation relates to the idea of verification and (2) subjective evaluation implies some sort of validation. This essentially sums up the distinction between what you can prove versus what the customer really wants.

Having never read any Rand, I simply wanted a made-up word that you could easily Google, and msubjectivist stinks (in more ways than one).

Following on this, I recently received a tiny booklet from IEEE Press that provides a bit of inspiration to authors and others that wish to innovate. It contains a limited set of short thoughts to keep in mind while investigating a research area. Taken together, they kind of remind me of Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies deck of cards. A bit less artistically inclined, I would call these "Objective Strategies". As an act of brainstorming, it won't get us to what the customer wants, but it does describe the collective march toward a breakthrough that may just pass a smell test.

8 Elements of Innovation

Eureka moments are sparse and far between
-- unless you're looking for them.
Passing thoughts sometimes harbor the
biggest breakthroughs.

(Tap into these transient fantasies to
open up a whole new perspective.)

The creative imagination leads where the
technical skill-set must follow.

In an age of continuous improvement, the "wouldn't it be
great" ideas may already have supporting technologies.
Keeping pace with the latest breakthroughs may bridge
the juncture between theory and application.

Where will this innovation fit within the existing
marketplace? The selling point of every technology lies
in its one-upmanship over existing technologies. What
sustainable advantage does this innovation introduce?

Define a criterion for success -- measurable objectives
that clearly outline your research goals.

Design empirical experiments that qualify and quantify
the research results.

Troubleshooting is vital to conducting research.
Testing several hypotheses provides valuable insight
into what works.. Adjustments to the process can
save valuable research time and materials.

Detachment and clear-sightedness go hand-in hand
with innovation. Mentally polarize the intention of
creation and the act of creating. Is there a better
technology that might take our research further?

Be open to the possibilities that might drastically alter,
but improve, your original plans.

Cling to the indefatigable strength of purpose that
drove you to become an engineer.

Seek answers where there are only questions, and
accomplish what can't be done.

The dialectic between theory and application is
vital to innovation.
Applications that bridge the gap
between observed phenomenon, like ferro-electric current,
and high performance technologies, like Fe-RAM,
revolutionize the technological landscape.

But communication is not bound to white paper. Consulting
an expert or perhaps a peer who specializes in another field
of interest may just *spark* that light-bulb moment.

Stirling Newberry came up with his own set of Oblique Strategies here.


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