Sometimes the most difficult part of innovation is how to survive your innovation project internally. Most organizations that really need to innovate have a risk adverse culture and managing innovation has everything to do with managing expectations and reducing risks. Gijs van Wulfen offers seven practical tips how to survive your innovation project.

“We need something really new to grow sales again”. This is on the agenda of management teams all over the world. So as one of the best innovators you were asked to come up with new ideas. And so you do. You present them creatively with beautiful designed mood boards and even a customer journey movie. Everybody is enthusiastic and you get compliments on your creativity. But nothing happens. Management focuses again on the urgent daily business. And after a short while all wonderful creative ideas dropped dead on the floor. And you and the other innovators within the organization are really frustrated.

Three things went wrong

  1. Management did not know what to expect. They asked for innovation but were surprised when they saw the creative ideas. Dogs bark at what they don’t know. And people are sometimes just like dogs: they first bark and then think.
  2. It was not yet clear “what’s in it for us?” The new ideas looked great but the business side (sales and profit potential) was not worked out in-depth in the first ideas.
  3. Relevant questions on feasibility were unanswered in full extent. Can we make it? What will it cost? Will customers buy it?

Often the most difficult part of innovation is not the external side dealing with customers. No, your biggest worry is how to survive your innovation project internally. Most organizations that really need to innovate have a risk adverse culture. And you can’t change this overnight. So managing innovation has everything to do with managing expectations and reducing risks.

Seven practical tips on how to survive your innovation project

  1. Start with a concrete innovation assignment. This assignment gives direction and manages expectations of top management. You can download a free checklist on how to make an innovation assignment.
  2. Make it a team effort. When every discipline is involved from the start in your innovation team you get a ‘360 degree’ view on things and the new concepts get a lot of father and mothers with a much better chance to survive internally.
  3. Use the customers perspective. Make sure your innovation project is relevant for customers. One of the main reasons innovation is difficult, is that your potential users should change their behavior. They will have to look for -, buy – and use your innovation. And why should they? That’s the question! So identify relevant problems at target groups first and then ideate solutions that will solve them later.
  4. Make business cases. You can only present an idea for the first time, once! So when you have the chance to present it, be aware that a new idea is not only ‘a creative product’. It also must comply to regular business criteria too. Here’s a format for a mini new business case in seven slides.
  5. Connect Top Management. “Innovation ist Chefsache”, say the Germans. That’s why you should involve ‘the boss’ from the start. Not in a steering committee on a distance. Invite Top Managers as team members and take them with you on your innovation journey. In this way the can get new insights themselves.
  6. Connect Customers. Involve customers from the start in every phase of your innovation project. Lead users in consumer markets and co-creation partners in business markets are perfect advocates internally to prove there’s a potential market.
  7. Do it fast. On average an Innovation project takes 18 months for new services and 36 months for a new product. Be sure to speed it up. You know when there’s a takeover, a strategy change or another crises your innovation project will be at risk. So focus and deliver as fast as you can. You can jump start innovation with a structured innovation expedition called FORTH. Download the map.

Managing Innovation is managing paradoxes. Think outside the box and present inside the box. Be innovative and act conservative to reduce risk. Be fast and precise.

I wish you a lot of success surviving your innovation project. Please share with us your own tips how to survive innovation projects.

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’.