Monday, October 15, 2012

The Tools of Innovation part 1: Concept Maps

If we wish to view Innovation as something that truly can be reproduced or engineered (at the individual or organizational level), then there must be a set of tools to facilitate those activities, right? It is perhaps hard to imagine what they might be without ever having worked with them and of course that's exactly how I approached the subject just a few years ago.

But I started small and worked my way up and all that while a new breed of tools were being introduced to the market as well. My introduction to this realm was the "Concept Map." Concept mapping tools are akin to Mind Mapping tools but without some of the constraints (in terms of how thought trees are captured and displayed).

The Wikipedia definition for Concept Mapping is - Concept mapping is a technique for visualizing the relationships among different concepts. A concept map is a diagram showing the relationships among concepts. Concepts are connected with labeled arrows, in a downward-branching hierarchical structure. The relationship between concepts is articulated in linking phrases, e.g., "gives rise to", "results in", "is required by," or "contributes to".

In other words, the concept map allows you to quickly build, visualize and capture a crude ontology of any concept/idea. The tool that I've been using is freeware, it's the de facto standard - CmapTools. The product is in transition and it is now being sold commercially as well as Ceryph Insight.

What I like about it is the ability to save your designs to XML and if you get the plugin (Cmap Ontology Editor), to save your Concepts Maps as OWL files. So how does one use a Concept Mapping tool? Here's how I do it:

    Step 1: I have it loaded on a laptop and ensure that there is a projector available
    Step 2: I have an agenda of related topics, issues, assumptions or ideas already gathered in bullet point fashion on a sheet, which is either for me or handed out to a group.
    Step 3: Throw it on the chart - basically one begins to place the various elements on a screen and see how they relate to one another or whether they have merit.
    Step 4: Down-select - focus areas are developed and dead-ends are deleted.
    Step 5: Pretty it up - This is where we add some design elements to make the diagram outputs suitable for inclusion on presentations, web sites etc. This is also when you decide what text to add to the connecting arrows...

So what does it look like when you're done, well, it can look like any diagram, here are some examples:

A Concept Map of Innovation...

A Concept Map illustrating potential requirements for Maritime Domain Awareness...

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