Gijs van Wulfen has developed a structured innovation approach connecting creativity and business reality in five steps: Full Steam Ahead, Observe and Learn, Raise Ideas, Test Ideas and Homecoming. Here he summarizes the benefits of his method in a 66-point innovation checklist.

The fuzzy front end is the nickname for the start of innovation or innovation phase. Why? Because getting innovative ideas is a vague process.

It’s considered as hard to do. That’s exactly why I like to unfuzzy it with a structured innovation approach, called the FORTH innovation method. It connects creativity and business reality in five steps: Full Steam Ahead, Observe and Learn, Raise Ideas, Test Ideas and Homecoming. In an innovation lecture in Belgium last week I was challenged to summarize all the benefits of the method in one big checklist for the front end of innovation. So here is a 66-point innovation checklist.

Full Steam Ahead

  1. If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got [A. Einstein].
  2. Create momentum for your innovation project. There must be urgency otherwise innovation is considered as playtime and nobody will be prepared to go outside the box.
  3. Manage the expectations of your bosses and of the line management before you start your innovation project(s).
  4. It is essential to start your innovation journey with a clear and concrete innovation assignment to give focus.
  5. Be concrete about the market/target group for which the innovations must be developed.
  6. Define which criteria the new concepts must meet. This forms the guidelines underway.
  7. Use a team approach to get both better innovation results and internal supporters for the innovative outcomes.
  8. The always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself [A. Wharhol].
  9. Invite people for whom the innovation assignment is personally relevant.
  10. Invite both people for content as for decision-making reasons.
  11. Be sure to invite outside-the-box thinkers.
  12. Involve also a couple of outsiders.
  13. Get a good mix between men and women, young & old, et cetera.
  14. Let the internal top problem-owner (vice-president) participate in the innovation team.
  15. Identify potential target groups for innovation.
  16. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man [G. Bernard Shaw].

Observe and Learn

  1. You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore [Anonymous].
  2. It is essential to get fresh insights before you start creating ideas.
  3. Ask questions?
  4. Use web searching and crowd sourcing to open up the minds of the innovation team: what do we learn from this?
  5. Postpone your judgement.
  6. Ask the most important question again and again: why?
  7. What are the trends among potential target groups? Why?
  8. What are emerging relevant new technologies? Why?
  9. Visit customers, observe their behaviour and ask yourself the question: why?
  10. Visit companies in other sectors that serve as a source of inspiration to discover innovation opportunities: what do I learn from this?
  11. Look for problems: start discovering relevant customer’s frictions to solve.

Raise Ideas

  1. The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas [L. Pauling].
  2. Look for a special environment for your innovation workshops (special place, special theme, special music, special food et cetera).
  3. Create an emotional safe environment where you can be yourself.
  4. Focus 100%: do not ever allow ringing and flashing iPhones and Blackberry’s.
  5. Never, I really mean never, brainstorm at the office.
  6. Take at least two days for an effective brainstorm for concrete new concepts.
  7. Plan and prepare an effective combination of idea generation techniques.
  8. Spend twice as much time on the convergence process as on the divergence process.
  9. Make sure the innovation workshops are enjoyable. Fun promotes good results.
  10. Monitor all participants and involve them in the innovation process at the same time.
  11. Time box. Work with strict deadlines. They help you to get people outside the box. And to make choices.
  12. Be open to ideas or suggestions from your innovation team to adapt the process.
  13. Allow people to choose which innovation opportunity, idea, concept board or mini new business case they want to work on.
  14. Hire an (internal) expert facilitator, hardly noticeable, with light controls.
  15. As facilitator give the opposite energy to the group. If the group is too active: be calm. If the group is too calm: be more energetic.
  16. Visualise the results.
  17. Keep the pace going; otherwise it becomes long-winded and boring.

Test Ideas

  1. The audience liked it, so I kept it in. I would try a line and leave it in too if it got a laugh. If it didn’t, I’d take it out and put in another. [Groucho Marx].
  2. Check the strength of the ideated new concepts right away at the front end.
  3. Great ideas are the ones appealing to customers.
  4. Use the voice of the customer internally to get support.
  5. Use online-tools to check ideas if speed is important.
  6. Successful innovations will solve relevant problems of customers.
  7. Check if the innovation fits the brand.
  8. Would you really use this concept yourself?
  9. Use customer feedback to improve the concepts.


  1. Return with mini new business cases instead of post-its or mood boards.
  2. If you have enough information to make a business case, you’re too late [B. Gates].
  3. Come back with innovative concepts, which fit the ‘in the box’ reality of your organisation, otherwise nothing will happen.
  4. A good concept stands out in the market.
  5. The best ideas lose their owners and take on lives of their own [N. Bushnell].
  6. Attractive innovations realise extra turnover.
  7. Ideas get approved when they have adequate profit potential.
  8. Be sure innovations fit management’s personal goals.
  9. You only get a support when innovation is (somehow) considered feasible.
  10. Winning new concepts give potential customers a concrete reason to change.
  11. Make use of the specific expertise of others from within the organisation as much as you can in an early phase in the innovation process.
  12. Substantiate, in a businesslike and convincing manner, to what degree and for what reason the new concept can meet the criteria.
  13. Ideas are useless unless used [T. Levitt].

So, I hope these 66 points will inspire you to ‘unfuzz’ your own front end of innovation. I wish you lot’s of success in your own innovation projects. Do you have other tips for successful innovation? Please share them with us!

By Gijs van Wulfen

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’.