Whenever I talk to clients about innovation and innovation management, the so called Innovation Funnel shows up on the projector. It basically says that you simply have to collect ideas and run them through a stage-gate process to identify the most promising ones. The resulting, most promising innovations you simply implement and here you are: the most innovative company around! If you constantly feed that funnel, you will never be out of new products and services and you will always be ahead of competition. If you add some openness to that process (there are many books on Open Innovation to learn more) you’ll find more and better ideas because your clients, suppliers and some students you know can tell you all about their needs and the future in general, as you and your co-workers are blinded by being with the same company for a long time.
Therefore many, many companies I talk to have created and rolled-out an innovation management process based on stage-gate ideation. Every business unit received their individual stage-gate process, the idea evaluation criteria are well thought through and a browser-based, collaborative software is in place as well. So now everybody in the company – and maybe even outside of the company – can punch in ideas, evaluate the ideas of others, discuss, rate and rank, compare etc. Various methods of gamification ensure a high level of participation (if done in a proper way) and some consultants take care of the moderation and crowd engagement.
So far, so good. But clients often tell us “We have been doing this for a couple years now but to be honest, not a single breakthrough product, service, or solution was born within the innovation management team”, “The Open Innovation campaign we just launched is pure PR and marketing – we are not expecting anything in terms of innovation from it”, “We collected these 500+ ideas in the last three months – no clue, what to do with it”.
Why do I hear this time and time again?
After many years in innovation I believe that before ideation there are some even more relevant activities to look at. Before starting to ideate the biggest question is: Where to ideate? What is the thing that our existing or new clients need? Call that “where” whatever you want – Blue Ocean, Opportunity Space, White Space etc. It defines a business domain in which future growth is possible or even necessary. These future business domains are the place, where collaborative ideation is required to create new products, services and solutions.
From my experience the best results in ideation are achieved if the participants of an ideation exercise understand the future business domain they are attacking. This understanding comes from
Trends define the environment of an organization. They can be categorized (e. g. by STEEP, STEER or PEST for Political, Economic, Social and Technological analysis), sorted within a certain hierarchy (e.g. drilling down from a high level megatrends framework) and described to generate a common understanding. Furthermore, a trend analysis and evaluation allows organizations to understand when and how a trend influences the current state and helps to understand how a trend could play out as future business domain.
Modern technology is highly relevant for many new business models. Sensors, Virtual Reality, Machine Learning and Big Data, Digital Health or the Internet of Things and many other technologies will change the world in the upcoming decades. Here again: Only a deep understanding of the potential of technologies allows organizations to sketch out the future.
Inspirations I define as early real-life examples on how trends and technologies are used by pioneers. These can be startups, research institutes or even risk taking established companies that are at the forefront of a certain technology and/or trend. Inspirations oftentimes come from different industries (that can lead to so called cross-industry innovation) and aid in concretely understanding the potential of a trend and/or technology.
Within our methodology trends, technologies and inspirations are all interconnected and influence each other. Our End2End Innovation Approach (www.itonics.de) helps our clients to build structured future business domains and to allow for targeted ideation within these promising future business areas.
So my proposal is: Before you start ideating you might want to consider doing some homework first – that avoids disappointments and allows for a sustainable and successful innovation management!
Founder and Chief Executive Officer