CKS has sought to draw from several different disciplines and streams of thought in order to develop a synthetic perspective on innovation relevant for an emerging economy society like India. These include the writings of the economist Joseph Schumpeter (1934, 1942), the management theorist Peter Drucker (1946, 1958, 1985), the design theorists Eric von Hippel (2005, 2010) and Tim Brown (2008, 2009), and the innovation scholar Vijay Govindarajan (2005, 2010, 2012). These varied thinkers have defined innovation in social and economic terms, described its possibility within large organizations and social networks, and explained the central importance of orienting innovation towards an understanding the needs of end users, and of using design to meet those needs.
Over the past decade, CKS has developed its own approach to user-centered design and innovation called the CKS Innovation Cycle. It comprises three arcs: (i) Understand, (ii) Develop, (iii) Enhance. These three arcs largely correspond to three sequential stages of any product or service innovation program: (i) the identification and description of key challenge areas for a given set of users and an improved understanding of the nature of those challenges; (ii) the conceptualization of possible solutions and their iterative development and definition to higher and higher degrees of fidelity upto the point where there is a working or non-working prototype and (iii) the further testing and validation of the proposed solution or solutions with end users so as to arrive at prioritization of solutions, improved user experience and a good basis for anticipating future market or field success. Since its early years CKS has applied this approach to context-specific and user-centered design and innovation in diverse innovation projects for different kinds of private, public, and social sector clients.
The Innovation Cycle may superficially resemble many other approaches to product and service development, as may, for example, be in place in organizations that develop consumer electronics, home appliances, software systems and solutions and other complex solutions based on a synthesis of market and consumer need with technology and product configuration. The key difference lies in the degree of specificity and granularity with which the process proceeds, and the extent to which local contextual and cultural knowledge is brought to bear on a series of innovative deformations or reconfigurations of existing technological capabilities to create value and benefit for the end user. Our goal is not merely market success, but beneficial impact to society, and these benefits can only arise if they have been specifically imagined and designed into reality.
The CKS approach, therefore, is more rigorous than mere “design thinking”, because it employs a highly-structured methodology for analysing different causes of failure as well as positive dimensions of value. It fractures an overall arc of innovation into numerous sub-component elements. The creativity of the design team comes into play at the microscale, once the key barriers or failures to a successful process have all be identified through an analytic process. They create a series of possible options or solutions for each identified failure case. Teams then use innovation workshops to aggregate and synthesize these 8 component concepts into a new integrated solution that is neither trivial nor amenable to discovery through conventional analytic means. The Innovation Cycle, therefore offers an amalgamation of divergent and convergent modes of thinking, which are both necessary for creating innovations that actually solve identified challenges. Finally, and most importantly, this is a shared and collaborative process, which allows multiple participants from different backgrounds and areas of expertise to work together to arrive at solutions, which no single mind could ever envision alone.