By: Gijs van Wulfen
When starting innovation, a lot of the same mistakes are made over and over again. Here is how you can recognize and avoid them.
In my new book The Innovation Expedition I point out six ways of committing innovation suicide. And how to avoid these pitfalls in practice.
- Start without a business need. Think about the last time you tried to make a dramatic change in your personal behavior. We, as innovators, are faced with the same difficulties. We are all stuck in our habits; doing things in fixed patterns. For years, we continue to read the same journals, drive the same cars, and have the same insurance. The only reason for us to change is when a new, simple and attractive solution comes along, relevant to our needs. It’s as simple as that. So, if your company’s current business is booming, it’s unlikely that the people in your organization will readily break with their habits. Remember: necessity is the mother of invention. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas granted Portugal exclusive rights to the eastern routes that went around Africa. That’s why on March 22, 1518 the King of Spain was persuaded to appoint Magellan and Faleiro; the Spanish Crown felt an urgent need to travel west to find a new commercial route to the Spice Islands. So don’t try to convince others to innovate when there is no business need; you will be turned down.
- To first appoint an innovator. Okay, we need to innovate, so who do we put in charge? A lot of organizations will make the most innovative colleague responsible for innovation. That may seem like the smart thing to do, but it’s not. He or she will only end up a lone wolf, because inventing and innovating are two very different things. You can invent on your own. But in an organization you can never innovate alone! You need R&D engineers, production managers, IT staff, financial controllers, marketers, service people and salesmen to develop or service the product, produce it and get it on the market. The moment you appoint an innovator, you run the risk that everyone else will lean back and wait for the appointed innovator to come up with his or her innovations. The others won’t take their responsibility anymore.
- Start with your idea. Innovation isn’t just about ideas; it’s about getting the right ones and realizing these ideas in practice. The global symbol for innovation is a bright, shining light bulb. Once an idea comes to you, you’ll probably fall in love with it. That’s a great feeling. But, unfortunately, love is blind. The psychological phenomenon of selective perception will make you see only the positive points of an idea and only listen to people who are supportive. What happens when you tell your idea to someone else? The first reaction will often be ‘Yes, but……….’. Others within your group will be critical of your idea the moment it is told to them. An important reason for this is that it is your idea and not theirs.
- Bet on one idea. For every seven ideas for a new product, about 4 enter development, 1 to 2 are launched and only 1 succeeds [R. Cooper (2005), Product Leadership. New York: Basic Books.]. It resembles the outcome of Magellan’s expedition. On September 20, 1519 five ships under Magellan’s command – Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria and Santiago – left Spain to discover a route to the west. Three years later only one ship, the Victoria, returned to the harbor of departure, completing the first circumnavigation of the Earth. However, the spices on the Victoria, were so valuable, it was enough to pay for the entire expedition. Therefore, never bet on one ship. There’s a huge risk that it won’t return.
- Start with a brainstorming session. When there’s a need to come up with something new, people generally start by organizing a brainstorming session. Ironically, often times nothing innovative ever materializes. That’s why brainstorming holds such negative connotations in lots of companies. It’s because it is the same group of colleagues who usually get together without any preparation to brainstorm. You might think the problem is their inability to generate new ideas. But you would be wrong. The problem is their inability to let go of the old ones! I love this quote by the American businessman Dee Hock, he says: “The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it. Once you get the old ideas out of your mind, new ones come automatically!”
- Start by neglecting customers. Starting with ideas or new technologies gives a lot of energy and inspiration. It’s also fun to do. But effective innovation is all about getting new ideas for simple solutions for relevant customer problems or needs. Meeting potential customers to discover their frictions belongs to a set of highly effective techniques you want to apply when creating new product ideas. Robert Cooper and Scott Edgett confirm this in their study concerning ideation techniques.[R. Cooper & S. Edgett (March 2008), “Ideation for Product Innovation: What are the Best Methods?” PDMA Visions] Don’t go looking for what your customer wants. This is because customers, themselves, aren’t always able to articulate their needs. Start by exploring customers’ relevant future problems. You’ll soon find that neglecting customers in your innovation will lead to a dead-end street for sure. Here you can find a free practical checklist ‘How to find customer frictions?’.
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. His latest book is “The Innovation Expedition: a visual toolkit to start innovation”. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organizations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method.
Gijs is a key-note speaker at international innovation conferences, chosen by Linkedin as one of their 150 Thought Leaders and the #2 in the Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2012.