The key innovation concept that drives business innovation is “marketing to participate”. In an economy that depends on the flow of “stuff”, businesses need to be able to innovate in response to changing needs, desires and marketplace dynamics. If the process is done well, business innovation can create new markets, create new jobs, increase company revenue, and significantly enhance competitive advantage. Unfortunately, many companies view the innovation process as a cost or burden rather than as an opportunity to profit.
The process of ideation is central to the creation of innovations. Ideas are rarely “in the clear” until someone – usually a manager – suggests them. In fact, very few ideas will be obvious to even the most experienced managers; indeed, very few “innovative ideas” will be considered “ground breaking” by a company’s Board of Directors during a board meeting. Most of the “big idea” ideas that corporate managers come up with in their workshops, product development sessions or target forum discussions, will get little attention at all. Much more likely, those managers will be “thrown out” before their ideas are ever brought up for discussion or debate.
Innovation processes should not only include ideation but also prioritization. All good innovation ideas start with a basic “what’s in it for me” perspective and then work backwards to identify the “why.” Many of the big, “in your face” innovative products that enter the market on Valentine’s Day, for example, have very little to do with why a company is selling its product, what customers it has, or what its competitors are doing. Most often, the original “why” for introducing the product is some highly personal touch by a senior employee.
So why should companies attend to the process of prioritizing and ideating? First, it facilitates and accelerates the decision making process, which increases the likelihood that the company will make an appropriate investment and will be rewarded for it. Second, by identifying the target market, internal and external competitors, management can assess the success and failure of corporate innovation ideas. Third, by focusing on the “why” behind corporate innovation ideas, managers can better determine if they are meeting the company’s long-term goals and whether the benefits derived from such strategies are worth the risk.
Once the focus is shifted away from why and who is to benefit, and on to what and how, the next step is to develop a “game plan” to execute the innovation ideas. Usually this involves a “game plan” or deliverable, which identifies both objectives and time frames. The plan will then detail milestones for implementation, including a schedule and cost estimates. One of the most common challenges faced in the corporate innovation process is insufficient time or inadequate resources to address issues identified at each level of the innovation process. The stakeholders will need to be involved in every step of the way from idea generation to targeted delivery.
The other key factor is keeping the innovation projects simple. Too often, large innovation projects can become overly complicated, with multiple deliverables, multiple partners, multiple sprints, multiple teams, and multiple jurisdictions. By contrast, there is an easier way to keep the innovation projects simple: by delegating the responsibility to one team, one person, and defining the parameters of that team’s work in advance.
Then by moving the innovation projects into the agile life cycle, where team members are empowered to contribute and reap the rewards of their work, innovation projects can be made more manageable and more profitable for the organization. While managers may not like this arrangement, it is the only way to ensure that the innovation projects that do go forward to provide value and meet the strategic and financial goals of the organization.