Four Routes to Simplify Innovation

by Gijs van Wulfen

Four Routes to Simplify Innovation

The Fuzzy Front End of innovation ends when an organization approves and begins the formal development of a new concept.[i] It’s the end of the beginning. This informal start of innovation is unfortunately packed with lots of obstacles that should be avoided. To raise the effectiveness of your efforts, I like to simplify the front end of innovation by giving you four structured routes to well-founded convincing business cases. I believe, just like Thomas Edison, that preparation leads to success.

We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation. [Thomas Edison].

Innovation can start as a slow hunch, taking years before becoming a real opportunity or it may start right now as a result of an urgent business challenge. To me, it’s not a question of how innovative you are. It’s a question of how you are innovative! Whether you start with a business challenge, with a (startup) idea, with a technology or with a problem of one of your clients; you just have to pick the right route through the innovation maze. The four routes won’t eliminate the risk of failure completely of course. The structured routes though will reduce this risk of failure because they will guide you along 15 pitfalls and obstacles. The four routes through the innovation maze give you better chances to create a well-founded convincing new business case and eventually a great new product, service, process or experience.

The Idea Route

Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, describes ideas as slow hunches. Some of them may take years to hatch. Others might hit you overnight. Now, how do you develop your idea or opportunity into a well-founded convincing new business case, as a startup or as a corporate innovator? Just follow the blue Idea Route through the innovation maze.

In this case you have already ideated a rough business idea – or spotted a great opportunity for a new product, service, process or experience. So, ideate is your starting point at the bottom right of the maze. Your next step is Focus, where you will make your idea or opportunity concrete in an innovation assignment. You make all your expectations and boundary conditions explicit, like: why do you want to innovate? What is it? For whom? Where: regions and countries? When: year of introduction? And which criteria should your new idea or opportunity meet? As the third activity you check if your idea or opportunity fits your personal and corporate priorities. If not, here’s your first exit moment. Be realistic. If it fits, you create the right conditions for success; picking the right moment, getting the right team together, determining the right pace for your idea and raising the funds you need for the front end. As the next activity you go out to Discover. You and your team will orientate yourselves getting new insights by discovering relevant trends, visiting and analyzing relevant markets, investigating new technologies and discovering new insights from customers by observing, listening and talking to them. Obviously, your idea or opportunity will change along the way during your discovery process. Armed with what is happening out there you will be creating a viable business model around your pivoted idea as the next step. Now that you have defined your new offering, you can focus on the ‘how’ by identifying and selecting the right technology to deliver your new product, service, process or experience. Right after selecting your technology it’s wise to Check the Freedom to Operate (FTO) to research if you do not infringe intellectual property rights of others, to avoid problems later in your formal development process. Once you have defined the what, how and for whom, you’re ready to learn if you’re on the right track. You will start to Experiment, carrying out a systematic research or test which validates the adoption and attractiveness of your new product, service, process or experience. Once your experiments have been successful you have all the ingredients to create a New Business Case: a well-founded convincing business case for your new product, service, process or experience.

The Technology Route

New technologies spark innovation. For example, the development of new game consoles, the internet of things or 3D printing give huge opportunities for the development of new products and services. How do you transform a new technology into a well-founded convincing new business case for new products and services? Just follow the yellow Technology Route through the innovation maze

As you have picked a new technology as an opportunity you start at Select Technology. Following the yellow route, your next step is Focus, where you will make the goals of your technological opportunity explicit in an innovation assignment. You make all your expectations and boundary conditions explicit, like: why do you want to innovate with this technology? What is it? Who’s our target group? Where: regions and countries? When do we want to introduce new products of services? And based on this new technology, which criteria should your products/services meet? As the third activity you check if this new technology fits your personal and corporate priorities. Be aware if the answer is no, then this is a warning to stop. If it does fit, you create the right conditions for success: picking the right moment, getting the right team together, determining the right pace for your technological opportunity and raising the funds you need for the front end. As the next activity you go out to Discover. You and your team will orientate yourselves getting new insights by discovering the new technology intensively. You might visit leading Universities and Research Institutes. Analyze markets, where the new technology is already available. Check out lead-users of the new technology. And you try to catch new insights from your target market by observing, listening and talking to them. Then you Ideate. You generate and select concrete new product or service ideas based on the new technology, which match relevant needs from your target audience. As a next step you will create a viable business model around your new product or service ideas. After you have generated new business models, it’s wise to check the Freedom to Operate to research if you do not infringe intellectual property rights of others. As you have defined the what, how and for whom, you’re ready to learn if you’re on the right track. Similar to the other routes you will start to Experiment, carrying out a systematic research or test which validates the adoption and attractiveness of your new product, service, process or experience. Once your experiments have been successful you have all the ingredients to create a New Business Case: a well-founded convincing business case for your new product, service, process or experience based on your new technology.

The Customer Issue Route

A lot of innovations are born out of frustration. Virgin Group founder and serial innovator Richard Branson has often said, many of his best business ideas were born out of frustration. As a frequent air traveler in America, he was constantly frustrated by the terrible service offered on almost all of the domestic US carriers. His solution was to launch Virgin America, which now consistently tops customer service rankings.[ii

In this case your innovation journey through the maze starts on the upper right side and you follow the green route. As you start with a customer issue or frustration the first step is to explore and discover if this is a relevant issue for a broader group by observing, listening and talking to them. Furthermore, you discover relevant trends, visiting and analyzing relevant markets and investigating new technologies. Following the green route, your next step is Focus, where you will make the goals of your innovation initiative explicit in an innovation assignment. You make all your expectations and boundary conditions explicit, like: why do you want to solve this customer issue? Who’s your target group? Where: regions and countries? When do you want to introduce new products of services? And which criteria should your products/services meet?  As the third activity you check if solving this customer issue in an innovative way fits your personal and corporate priorities. Be aware if the answer is no, then this is a warning to stop. If it does fit, you create the right conditions for success: picking the right moment, getting the right team together, determining the right pace for your innovation project and raising the funds you need for the front end. Then you Ideate. You generate and select the best concrete new product or service ideas to solve the customer issue from your target audience. As the next step you will create a viable business model around your new product or service ideas. Once you have generated and chosen a business model, you have defined your new offering and you can focus on the ‘how’ and by identifying and selecting the right technology to deliver your new product, service, process or experience. After this step you obviously Check the Freedom to Operate to research if you do not infringe intellectual property rights of others. As you have defined the what, how and for whom, you’re ready to learn if you’re on the right track. Similar to the other routes you will start to Experiment, carrying out a systematic research or test which validates the adoption and attractiveness of your new product, service, process or experience. Once your experiments solving the customer issue have been successful, you have all the ingredients to create a New Business Case: a well-founded convincing business case for your new product, service, process or experience in which you solve a relevant customer issue in a brilliant way.

The Business Challenge Route

Now suppose your organization is an active innovator, which wants to innovate giving innovation priority at the end of the growth stage of its revenue stream. This is the case for BRUIL in the Netherlands, a producer of concrete, supplying to the building industry. Due to the crisis from 2008 -2013 their business volume dropped dramatically. After re-organizing their company in 2013 their business challenge was to find new growth opportunities to play to win again

The Business Challenge Route starts on the lower left side of the Innovation Maze. Just follow the pink route. Your first step is Focus, where you will draft your innovation assignment. You make all your expectations and boundary conditions explicit, like: why do you want to innovate? What are we looking for? For which target markets? Where: for which parts of the world? When: year of introduction? And which criteria should your new products or services meet? As the second activity you create the right conditions for your innovation project to succeed: picking the right moment, getting the right team together, determining the right pace for your challenge and raising the funds you need for the front end. As the next activity you go out to Discover. You and your team will orientate yourselves getting new insights by discovering relevant trends, visiting and analyzing relevant markets, investigating new technologies and discovering new insights from (potential) customers by observing, listening and talking to them. Inspired by what is happening out there you will then Ideate new concepts which fit your innovation assignment. You generate and select the best concrete new product or service ideas to solve the customer issues from your target audiences. As the next step you will create a viable business model around your new product or service ideas. Once you have generated and chosen a business model, you have defined your new offering and you can focus on the ‘how’ by identifying and selecting the right technology to deliver your new product, service, process or experience. After identifying the new concepts and technology used, you check the fit of the new innovations with your personal and corporate priorities. If there’s a good fit you Check the Freedom to Operate to research if you do not infringe intellectual property rights of others. As you have defined the what, how and for whom, you’re ready to learn if you’re on the right track. Similar to the other routes you will start to Experiment, carrying out a systematic research or test which validates the adoption and attractiveness of your new product, service, process or experience. You test the new concepts and adapt them of course based on the customer feedback and results, until your experiments with the new concepts have been successful. You now have all the ingredients to create a New Business Case: a well-founded convincing business case for your new product, service, process or experience with which to help you with your challenge.

Pick the Right Route and Stay flexible

Each of the four innovation routes contains all ten activities. The great news is that whether you start with an idea, a technology, a customer issue or a business challenge you can use the same activities and the same tools. The order in which the ten activities are undertaken depends on how you start innovation. Be aware that doing things in the right order has a huge impact on the effectiveness. Wishing you lots of succes on your innovation routes!

Do you like this post? Then, check out Gijs van Wulfen’s new innovation bestseller at: Amazon UK or Amazon US.

 

References:

[1] Robert G. Cooper and Scott J. Edgett, “Best practices in the Idea-to-Launch Process and Its Governance”, Research Technology Management, March-April 2012, p. 47

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_product_development#Fuzzy_Front_End

[ii] Forbes, Alison Coleman, “How Entrepreneurs Like Branson Hatch Their Best Business Ideas, July 7, 2015.

[iii] THE STUDY OF PRODUCT TEAM PERFORMANCE 2015, ACTUATION CONSULTING, http://www.actuationconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/Study_Product_Team_Performance_2015w.pdf

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Gijs van WulfenGijs van Wulfen helps organizations to structure the chaotic start of innovation as author, speaker and facilitator. He is the founder of the FORTH innovation method and author of the innovation bestseller The Innovation Expedition. He was chosen by LinkedIn as one of their first 150 Influencers. Follow Gijs @gijsvanwulfen