Innovatyawn

That’s the end of the innovation model. Boy, that was dull. I was looking forward to a lively and creative three months, but suffered a slow lingering death by innovation. I don’t think poor old innovation is in a good place.

Dusty light bulb
Light bulb image: https://www.dreamstime.com/photos-images/light-bulb-cobweb.html

Why?

  • There are multiple muddy definitions
  • Many of the theories don’t feel useful
  • Innovation processes/gate processes don’t factor in people and culture

Definition

Innovation is implementing new ideas to create things that society or customers value.

 The definitions is also expanded to mean the transfer of ‘value’ to the customer in a whole variety of ways including communication platforms, customer services, processes. Articles are written about “twelve ways for companies to innovate”.

This can all be innovative, but it has created a real fog around innovation in terms of harvesting and translating ideas into new products or services, and the role of R&D and discovery centres in companies. Maybe the world could distinguish between ‘new things’ innovation and ‘how to do things’ innovation.

Theory

People are Clayton Christensen mad (disruptive innovation). People are Von Hippel mad (lead-user theory). Innovation should come from creative teams. Innovation should be open. It should be incremental. Disruptive. Sustainable. Blue sky. Blue ocean. Crowd sourced.

My take-out is that innovation should be the thing your company needs it to be. Lead-user theory can help support more radical and novel innovation, working with experts or people at the cutting-edge of the user space. Blue ocean thinking is a method of connecting with people who don’t use your product/service, to create a new market. But, don’t get pulled along by ideas just because they are surrounded by hype.

Processes

There are several models to base a company innovation process on. At its simplest level, Tidd and Bessant’s 4 stages is useful:

Search –> Selection –> Implementation –> Value Capture

Within Implementation often sits a Gate Process (Cooper) for defined ideas to explore the consumer need, market feasibility, commercial potential, testing, launch, during which projects can progress or be killed off.

The importance of culture and people within these processes is hugely relevant. If a company are generating ideas from a small closed group of individuals, or experience ‘group think’ without a good critical discussion at the start, they can enter the journey without all the information to hand. Being overly considerate of the customer may stifle more radical ideas as they don’t always know what they want. My example of this is they’d never have come up with the idea of ingesting live bacteria for their digestion, giving rise to a multi $billion probiotic industry. The push came from the science.

What was interesting was the notion of intrapreneurship, encouraging people and teams to follow their energy and creativity to produce new ideas, being given time and recognition for doing so.

My experience

In a previous company I was part of a small group who introduced an innovation process. Ideas were invited from all staff, from cleaners, receptionists and anyone who had lived experience of the company products. It was fun! Ideas then entered a selection phase with the individuals pulling together a business case or prototype. All I remember is two or three ideas going to market within six months. The process included panels of nurturers, “yes, and…” people, and pruners, “yes, but…” people.

Final thoughts

Forget the theory and the hype. Empower all of your staff to become intrapreneurs and to have their ideas valued. Have a clear process but keep it open and flexible. Allow for ‘push’ from those in your company producing discoveries like your researchers and developers, and balance with ‘pull’ from what your customers want. Innovation often fails first time but the best ideas are picked up from others. Don’t be afraid to fail, and do look around and learn from other company failures.

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