“What Street Golf has to do with innovative design?” by Rodolphe Rosier, Innovation Expert

Rodolphe Rosier is a proven Innovation Professional: he actually combines theoritical work through an academic thesis with innovation work on the ground at Axane, Air Liquide subsidiary dedicated to innvation, and Efficient Innovation, a consulting firm.

He kindly accepted to share some precious feedback about his innovation experience.

1) What are your background and activities linked to innovation?

I’ve been working for 11 years in the field of innovation : first as a product manager at Axane (subsidiary of the Air Liquide group dediacted to innovation), a new player in clean energy, then as a consultant.

I’m currently manager at “Efficient Innovation”, a French consulting firm gathering 50 people. Our core consulting activities deal with 1) exploring new concepts and opportunities 2) setting and financing collaborative projects and 3) optimizing product design for small, medium or big companies.

I’ve got a PhD in innovation management : I focused my thesis on the mechanisms and organizations that sustain the exploration of new disruptive concepts ; it was financed by the Air Liquide group.

2) You were involved in Axane initiative, a new entity dedicated to innovation set-up by Air Liquide. What are the learnings from this experience?

Axane was created in 2001 by Air Liquide to explore a new innovation field : hydrogen-energy produced by fuel cells. Axane was run by Patrick Sanglan ; the team gathered 60 people in 2007, when I left, with an overall budget superior to 2 M€.

It was a newcomer in that field, and its mission was to explore applications and find a business case for a technology that enables to produce electricity without gas emission in a silent manner.

Between 2002 and nowadays, Axane has conducted an amazing trajectory to disrupt traditional combustion genset; it has explored new uses amongst untapped markets : defense, movie industy, telecoms, electric wheelchair, etc…

The collaboration with the other entities of Air Liquide wasn’t easy at the beginning because Axane was redefining roles : it was completing R&D, prototyping and testing directly with potentials customers at the same time and then, oriented the work of corporate R&D and Marketing based on its findings !

Axane developed during these years more than 3 different generations of modular products to sustain its dynamic of exploration: portable furtive energy, auxiliary power units for small vehicles and baseload energy in complement for renewable energies.

It won several design awards (Roller Pac awarded at Siemens Innovation Grand Prix and French APCI Design Contest in 2004) for its new ergonomic and functional approach of “sensitive energy” that led the firm to propose even new hydrogen storage concepts (traditionally, Air Liquide core business).

The main learnings for Air Liquide were twofold:

a) Disrupting technology doesn’t cope well with Roadmapping : no matter what they planned, the initial plan for Air Liquide in the Telco business did not pass the field test whereas some test fields in the movie industry revealed a tremendous interest for silent and autonomous energy, in replacement of batteries. This market was a first niche but it enabled Axane to sell products and to start an industrialization phase. During 2 years spent on the movie shooting crew, it also enabled the team to develop a business model.

b) Loose alignment with mainstream innovation strategy: the alignment with Air Liquide strategy was permitted thanks to the sponsor of the director of the advanced technologies Division. At the operational Level, an innovation project manager, Frédéric Touvard, played a major role in interfacing corporate R&D and marketing with Axane teams and creating some strong commitment amongst them. Moreover, his role was to make them acknowledge that the “tech subsidiary” could also have something useful to say about the markets and the business model.

3) You have developed a specific approach for innovative design, could you describe the main steps?

I belong to the community of researchers, managers and consultants using the C-K theory from Ecole des Mines de Paris in my daily work. At Efficient Innovation, we’ve created a step by step methodology called “New frontiers”, based on that theoretical frame :

  • Step 1 diagnosis: we analyze the innovation portfolio, we benchmark the competitors and we go straight questioning clients and final users. It enables us to identify new innovation fields as well as inhibitions preventing the innovation team from going into new directions (what Pascal Le Masson, Ecole des Mines de Paris, calls “fixation effects”).
  • Step 2 innovative flinging: we organized collaborative workshops by gathering multiple stakeholders such as clients, technology providers, etc… We stimulate creativity on focused disruptive concepts we’ve chosen in partnership with our clients.

For example, we’ve recently worked with an European sport brand to identifying new innovation fields in Golf: it appeared in workshops that  “Street Golf” was more than a weak signal, that it could be a new perspective for product innovation, via the adaptation of clubs and balls. One way to work on that topic was to address street golfer communities organized in associations, and to get closer to their gameplay in order to capture users feedbacks. We went to the field, participated to street Golf tournaments and met with communities to learn about their problems. In feedback, we invited street golfers to our creativity sessions to tackle with them new innovation fields.

The “New frontiers” methodology could just be another “creativity sessions” thing, but we pay attention to set a new organization (new roles, new missions) in order to continue the exploration and prototyping dynamic. In other words, we don’t leave you alone at the border at the point where you have to go “off-road” 😉 . That’s why we’re both “design and organizational thinking”.

 Rodolphe ROSIER


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