POC to guide our choices in the innovation process

To represent a usage experience with limited low cost means, design an idea as close as possible to the reality of the final product, test and/or validate a project, open up new fields of thought, stimulate creativity, accelerate the innovation process: there are multiple benefits to POCs. Director of research at the CRG (Management Research Centre) of the Interdisciplinary Institute for Innovation (i3) of the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research) and a professor at l’École Polytechnique, Christophe Midler mentions several basic rules to make good use of these "Proofs of Concept". In what context does the POC answer the problems of innovation? Should we restrict ourselves to POC?

POCs enable the provocation of "creative expansions" and extend our reflexive space by stimulating serendipity.

What is the value of POCs?

Christophe Midler. POCs have various functions. These solutions enable the testing and validation of a project, taking into account the initial specifications but also its capacity to be as representative as possible of the object that is to be produced. POCs provide the advantage of enabling the validation of certain precise aspects of the concept. It’s the case, for example, of a model to evaluate the style or the functionality of a product or of devices for testing a man-machine interface, such as the simulation of voice control via a simple microphone and speaker without having to create a software program. The idea is to represent a usage experience with limited low cost means.

In what way can POCs accelerate innovation ?

C.M. They mainly enable the guiding of choices in an innovation process that is, by definition at the beginning, open to a huge field of possibilities. In this way, POCs enable us to go faster in this exploration by rapidly eliminating any dead ends.

How does this type of approach also enable to “de-risk” large innovation programmes?

C.M. Quite simply with its capacity to break down an innovation programme into subsections to each be analysed individually, and to concentrate precisely on those which pose the most problems or the most risk, be it at the level of experience, technique, or of use value…

Concretely, how can POCs impact creativity in an innovation process?

C.M. In what we call POCs, which are based on a sensitive and practical experience as opposed to for example an Excel file presenting the figures of a project, there are demonstrators that validate ideas and there are stimulators. The latter put engineers in the place of users, enabling them to escape their presuppositions and thus open up to new fields of thought. Example: some designers, experts in creativity methodologies in the upstream exploration phase, suggested the following exercise to engineers: the use of objects stimulating new experiences for these professionals such as a surface that miaows when it is stroked, showing that an object such as a mobile phone can also be considered as a stimulator of emotions, or an exoskeleton giving these young engineers the experience of the difficulties encountered by an old person… It is the provocation of “creative expansions” according to the concept developed in the C-K theory (Concept-Knowledge) at the École des Mines. These creative protocols extend our reflexive space by stimulating serendipity.

What rules must be adhered to in order to successfully carry out a POC?

C.M. Its construction must precisely answer the questions initially asked and at the same time its test protocol must be sufficiently open so as to enable this expansion or this capacity to pivot, or to open up new perspectives. It is also essential to ensure rigorous collection of information coming from a POC, as it is here that new ideas can appear.

What are the limits of this approach?

C.M. For around ten years now we have seen an increase in the use of POCs, in particular via business Innovation Labs. But amidst all these often pertinent and effective attempts, the constraints of conception have sometimes been forgotten, as well as those of regulation or simply of cost. Innovation exists only if it is undertaken end-to-end, from creativity stage to development and production. The case of the Kwid project, Renault’s new low-cost car, is exemplary of this approach having succeeded at managing the innovation process in parallel from design work through to operational development.

Are there any alternatives to POC?

C.M. Probably the application of virtual and augmented reality. They provide another way of testing possibilities, in particular via the simulation of experience. But it is more of a complement than an alternative to POC. However, all these solutions mustn’t make us lose sight of one essential reality principle: the importance of calculation and of data in every innovation process.

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