Best Practices or a New Way: Patent Drafting vs Ideation

By Ty Hagler and Brian Castle

We hear a lot about best practices in innovation management circles.  In fact, we recently interfaced, at the same conference, with a speaker who had authored a book called Best Practices Are Stupid, as well as a consultant who recommended applying best practices in certain aspects of product development.

We were impressed with both of these people and their recommendations.  So the question is—who’s right?

Well, they both are. It depends on the context.  First, let’s look at how best practices can be useful to a process within innovation management.  Best practices can be essential to processes that have to be air-tight in execution, especially when security and liability are involved. What comes to mind is our firm’s work in intellectual property, specific to our work in patent drafting through Trig PDQ.

In the Trig PDQ framework, we collaborate with patent attorneys all over the country, as they are working to secure patents with the US Patent and Trademark Office.  Patent work represents a combination of speed and accuracy—attorneys are working under fixed deadlines, and errors can mean a rejection from the USPTO and the addition of much unwanted delay.

Recognizing this challenge, we have developed our own best practices for patent drafting orders, their execution by our team of industrial designers, and their ultimate delivery to the client.  The process is systematic, driven by checklists and proofing assignments, ensuring that each time the process moves like clockwork.  These best practices are thus critical to limiting human error and create an efficient, repeatable process.

In contrast, we see have discarded the best practices model with our ideation services.  When we facilitate ideation sessions, we go through a structured process of encouraging multidisciplinary teams to be wildly creative, yet focused on appropriately-scoped goals.  Human psychology, especially within the dynamic of creative teams, is a fascinating topic where we are constantly experimenting with techniques for better extracting brilliant ideas from our clients.    

We like to think of ideation sessions as a jam session of jazz musicians.  Much like jazz music, ideation feels free and improvisational. Yet, when you stop to consider jazz, the notes still have to make sense, have some kind of order, to achieve music—having components like rhythm and harmony—versus collaborative noise.

In the same way that jazz musicians want to make music, we want to generate structured, workable ideas from free-form concepts.  To make this happen, we are employing a constantly expanding set of tools encourage creativity in the ideation format.  From visual scribes (designers who sketch ideas as fast as can be written) to a deck of Ideation Divergence Cards that we’ve recently launched, we like to think that rather than relying upon best practices in ideation, we are constantly pushing the envelope with new techniques.