Do TV programmes like the X-factor offer us a better way of thinking about how product ideas should be filtered? Gijs van Wulfen takes on the role of Simon Cowell.

My new book ‘Creating innovative Products and Services’ tries to unfuzz the front end of innovation in order to create great ideas: ideas with an X-factor!

Everybody knows the television show where a jury is looking for talent with the X factor: “something” that makes for star quality. As innovators we are also in search of ideas with an X factor. But when do our ideas have it? Which criteria should it  meet in order to be of star quality?

Generally, an idea is in this early phase not more than a fleeting thought, a word or image whereby we experience a ‘we-have-to-do-something-with-this’ feeling. It is only a rough diamond, like a lot of candidates in the first round of the X factor. And it has still a long way to go. An important question is, will it survive the corporate stage-gate jury?

On face value an idea with the X factor is very appealing to (new) customers, very appealing to your company and can be brought to life quickly. In my own innovation practice these three core qualities leads to seven characteristics for great ideas for innovative products, services or business models:

  1. Very appealing to customers.
  2. It stands out in the market.
  3. It has great potential for extra turnover.
  4. It has adequate profit potential.
  5. It fits management’s personal goals.
  6. It is (somehow) considered quickly feasible.
  7. It creates its own internal support.

It is pretty evident that potential customers have to find the new product idea really attractive. During the innovation process, like the public at the X-factor shows, customers can serve as a fan club, while the idea is still being developed. In my latest blog on IM, I showed how the voice of the customer can destroy internal innovation blockers.

However, there is more to it. The new product or service idea must really stand out in the market and supply concrete advantages with regards to the current situation of customers (a camera tablet for the inspection of the small intestine). It gives potential customers a concrete reason to change. A really innovative product or service idea will solve relevant problems of customers (long lasting flowers), or will make something totally new possible (Virgin Galactic space flights). This not only applies to the consumer market but also to business-to-business markets where services or products play often a huge role in the business processes of customers. When it comes to the decision to buy, many people and departments are involved. There will have to be a definite reason for change (Tarmac which can be rolled up like a carpet saves a lot of time to apply).

An attractive and distinguishable new product idea might cause many changes internally. It is therefore important that you are fully aware of the possible resistance to this right at the beginning.  There’s more than often one X factor jury member with another opinion. Manfred Kets de Vries, professor in management and leadership at INSEAD, once said: ‘The only person waiting for a change is a baby with a wet diaper.’ With this he is spot on. Only if an idea fits your personal goal as a manager, it will get your support. Companies look for fast growth. It’s an X factor idea if it is going to bring about a larger turnover and more profits and, above all, if it is somehow considered to be feasible on short term.

So to reach the X factor finals an innovative idea must pass through a lot of gates in the innovation process successfully. Ideally a good product idea is not only supported by the creators, but is fully supported by the development team, the top management as well as the line management, even if there is some opposition at the beginning. We all loved Susan Boyle after she sang the first time :-).

I hope at least some of your ideas will have the X factor and will meet all seven criteria.

About the author:

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).

He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.

Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.