By Haydn Shaughnessy, Contributor,
“I write about enterprise innovation”
Tech 3/07/2013 @ 6:32AM |50,392 views Forbes Magazine
Samsung is a global leader in screen technology, TVs, batteries, and chip design. So in terms of innovation it is doing a lot right. But we know very little about how.
Two developments convinced the company in the late 1990s and early 2000s that they could adopt a systematic approach to innovation and that is what seems to underpin their current success.
The first development provides a broader explanation for Samsung’s innovation capacity. In the late 1990s they were able to tap into a source of cheap scientific expertise in the former Soviet Union.
In 2009 BusinessWeek reported that Samsung relied on its relationships with Russian experts for its smartphone software development, adding: “Russian brains helped Samsung develop the image-processing chips in its digital TVs and refine its frequency-filtering technology that significantly reduced noise on its now-ubiquitous handsets.”
But a second effect of the relationship with Russian science was the introduction of TRIZ, an innovation method that Samsung adopted from 2000 onwards but which only reached American companies from the mid-2000s onwards (Intel is a user).
TRIZ is a methodology for systematic problem solving. Typical of its origins in Russia, it asks users to seek the contradictions in current technological conditions and customer needs and to imagine an ideal state that innovation should drive towards.
Samsung had early successes with TRIZ, saving over $100 million in its first few projects. It was also adopting Six Sigma at the time.
But it was TRIZ that became the bedrock of innovation at Samsung. And it was introduced at Samsung by Russian engineers whom Samsung had hired into its Seoul Labs in the early 2000s.
In 2003 TRIZ led to 50 new patents for Samsung and in 2004 one project alone, a DVD pick-up innovation, saved Samsung over $100 million. TRIZ is now an obligatory skill set if you want to advance within Samsung.
At the Samsung Advanced Institute for Technology, Hyo June Kim, who wrote The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, a foundation text on TRIZ published in Korean, trained over 1,000 engineers across Samsung companies in 2004 alone.
What we know from this is how Samsung approaches innovation. Rather it is based on developing a creative elite. This explains how Samsung used TRIZ to get to its Super AMOLED displays.
Samsung Electronics has a sense of crisis that we have been a fast follower and we can not survive anymore in this position. Instead of leading the industry by developing innovative products, we have followed fast what the leading companies had developed. Top management pointed out this and asked employee not to be a fast follower, but to be an innovative leader.
At Samsung even the subsidiary CEO has to take TRIZ training. From looking at the various presentations I estimate that engineers get about 15 days of training plus 7 days specific project work. That’s quite an investment in method and people.
So the answer to why Samsung is so innovative – with at least two major product announcements this month – is that it is heavily invested in its people, it goes in search of special talent wherever it can find it, but specifically made astute moves into Russia early on; it targets its innovations towards specific competitors and patents that it wants to overhaul (as Apple did under Jobs); and it has an innovation culture based on extensive training, repeatable methodology and creative elite formation, backed by the highest levels of management.
To read the full article, click the link above.