The Innovation Tools Graduate Course

The Innovation Tools Graduate CourseI’m looking forward to teaching “Innovation Tools,” the graduate marketing course at the University of Cincinnati. The course teaches how to use Systematic Inventive Thinking, a method based on three ideas. First, most successful innovations over time followed one of five patterns, and these patterns are like the DNA of products that can be re-applied to innovate any product or service. Second, innovation happens when we start with a configuration (the “solution”) and work backwards to the “problem” that it solves. It turns out that humans are better at this than the traditional “problem-to-solution” approach to innovating. Finally, better innovation happens when we start within the world of the problem (the Closed World). Innovations that use elements of the problem or surrounding environment are more novel and surprising. We innovate “inside the box,” not outside.

Students learn not only how to innovate, but they also learn how to link it to marketing strategy. We teach the Big Picture marketing framework so that students know how to tie innovation and strategy and create an innovation roadmap.

We have 50 graduate students, mostly from our master of science of marketing program plus candidates from other colleges. Student teams are working on the following projects:

1. Retail Shelf Display: Two teams are working for a consumer packaged goods company to innovate new ways to display products in retail stores like Walmart and Target. Companies develop detailed “planograms” that try to optimize the amount of product and information packed into the assigned shelf space. These teams will create new-to-the-world ways to improve business results at the point-of-sale.

2. Pharmaceutical Sales: This team is innovating the selling process for a large pharmaceutical company. Companies deploy thousands of sales representatives worldwide to “detail” products at doctor’s offices. The goal of this project is to find innovative ways to use this massive resource differently.

3. Publishing: Two teams team are trying to innovate how books are written, published and ultimately consumed by the end user. The publishing industry is going through dramatic change as digital publishing continues to grow. Ideas from this team will be reviewed by one of the largest publishing companies in the world.

4. Online Experience: This team is tackling how to innovate the online customer experience – what happens when people visit a website. Websites continue to evolve with familiar patterns and standards embedded in them, especially with activities such as search and navigation. Ideas from this team will attempt to break that mold and bring new value for the end user.

5. Logistics Packaging: This team has the challenging assignment of applying SIT to traditional logistics packaging systems – boxes, tape, packing material and so on. Most would consider this a commodity industry, so it is ripe for new, innovative products and services.

6. Industrial Tubing: This team is working for a client in the energy sector to create new products and services for high quality steel tubing. This industry (like most) has a lot of “fixedness,” and I am expecting the team to develop completely new innovations in this space.

The output from each team is a “Dream Catalog,” a hypothetical portrayal of the best of the ideas in graphic form. This is a technique we teach so that students know how to bring innovations to life and align an organization to gain support.

As in past courses, the final exam is a complete and comprehensive demonstration of “innovating on demand.” Students are given a product that they do not know ahead of time. They have three hours to use each of the five SIT patterns correctly to create completely new-to-the-world innovations in that category. You can see the output of these final exams and the dream catalogs at our innovation wiki.


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Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at and at

Drew Boyd




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