At the Marketing Research Association’s 2015 Corporate Researcher Conference in St. Louis, Scott Lazarczyk and Manvir Kalsi of Samsung discussed Samsung’s innovation journey. Samsung needed a common process for innovation, research, and commercialization for the North American markets. Often, product ideas were handled on an ad hoc basis from Korean headquarters.

In the Battle of the Bulge, the U.S. Army had a tremendous opportunity. “Captain, we are surrounded on all sides by superior forces. We can attack in any direction!”

To improve innovation at Samsung, Scott’s team could attack in any direction. The dilemmas facing the organization are the tension between regional innovation and headquarters innovation, the tension between the need for speed and the need for accuracy, and the tension between the commitment to investing in research and an organization not used to using research results (often old results resurface as new inputs). Within the organization, siloes compete to be first to market, without sharing results.

A Rubik’s Cube, with each of six sides having a distinct color, has over 43 quintillion permutations of a 3 x 3 x 3 cube. To solve it, solve the first cross, the first corners, the middle layer, the second cross, the second corners, and positioning the edges correctly. Easy!

“The idea that so much complexity can be collapsed into such a simple object is one that makes you smarter for learning it.”

For researching innovation, the analogue is: align, embrace, identify, organize, and understand.

  • Align – Can you make your coworkers’ day suck just a little less?! Connect disparate problems across the organization to find points of innovation.
  • Embrace – Embrace resource constraints and technology restrictions “can serve as a catalyst for novel insights.” Creativity comes from last-minute panic, according to Calvin & Hobbes.
  • Identify – Innovators look for details “in the activities of internal teams, partners and even competitors to gain insights about new ways of doing things.”
  • Organize – Experiment with prototypes and pilots in the search for revenue opportunities.
  • Understand – “Devoting time and energy to finding and testing ideas through a network of diverse individuals gives innovators a radically different perspective.” Look beyond your own domain for new insights.

17% of Americans say they can solve a Rubik’s Cube without luck or cheating. Overstatement?

In this analogy, the six sides of the cube are Research, Finance, Marketing, HR, Strategy & Operations, and Sales. “We need to solve for ourselves first. Then we need to align color block by color block, function by function, each with their own objectives and their own politics,” Scott said. “Once you have a function aligned, move it out of the way and move on to the next. Once Finance is aligned, we have to leave them out of the process of aligning with Marketing.”  In this analogy, the centerpiece is immovable: the headquarters in Korea and Engineering. It’s inaccessible and sends technologies to the regions.

As you get near the end of solving the Rubik’s Cube, you have to destroy and restore. Ongoing challenges include working across the organizational structure, overcoming internal competition, mentoring staff, and shifting from being technology-driven to being consumer-driven (translating acronyms to “kitchen logic” and common sense). The “destroy and restore” part involves overcoming these challenges.

Success at the innovation process will involve standardizing the language of research across the regions, unifying the functions, seeking simplicity, and reducing redundancy. The goal is simply to sell more “units, units, units” for North America: the ultimate measurable goal – driving sales.

Originally published at ResearchScape.com as "Samsung's Innovation Process Journey – A Rubik’s Cube Redux" on October 6, 2015.