The life cycle of products decreased by factor 4 the last fifty years. Innovation is essential. But it is difficult, risky and it demands a lot of resources. It’s no walk in the park. Innovation is an expedition.

Senior managers don’t like to make mistakes and want to ‘cover their backs’. So they ask you for an innovation plan. What will you develop? How? And Why? A lot of corporate innovators do as they are told and write their plan. But did you get any new insights writing a plan? Or did you discover new opportunities writing a plan? Or did you get any breakthrough ideas writing a plan? Of course you didn’t.

Innovation is learning by doing. You need to go out there yourself to discover. Inspired by great explorers like Columbus, Magellan, Amundsen, Hillary and Armstrong I developed a new methodology for ideating innovative concepts. It’s ideating by doing, designed as an expedition. Going on an expedition means you’ll stop racing down your ‘business-as-usual-highways’ where you see the same familiar things. You explore and visit new sources of inspiration that draw you out of your comfort zone and enlarge your world.

The urgency of Magellan, the meticulous planning of Amundsen, the focus of the Apollo program, the courage of Columbus and the teamwork of Hillary’s conquest of Mount Everest are all part of it. The methodology has the characteristics of a real expedition, mixed with best practices of both creative and business thinking and is -fittingly- designed as a map. Having a map to consult is tangible proof of preparedness. And a large-scale map on the wall with a planned route inspires the innovation crew with all the confidence it needs. Enough even to sail off the map like Columbus did.

The innovation method is called FORTH – an acronym found in the first letter of each of the 5 steps: Full Steam Ahead, Observe & Learn, Raise Ideas, Test Ideas and Homecoming. FORTH was developed in practice and is used successfully in Europe in both B2B and B2C markets and by non-profit organizations. The method is presented in chapter two of my new book ‘The Innovation Expedition’, which you can download at the top of this article.

During the 1st step, Full Steam Ahead, you immediately choose the innovation focus. Here you choose your destination and draft an innovation assignment. During the 2nd step, Observe & Learn, you discover and understand what the potential target group considers to be important and what they struggle with the most. Furthermore, this step also includes an important condition necessary for generating new ideas: a period of incubation – in other words time to allow ideas to hatch. You will be consciously tackling your assignment as well as subconsciously. Sometimes an idea will enter your mind when you least expect it: in the shower, while on holiday or out jogging. The acquisition of insight into customers’ needs and the opportunities available, as well as ‘outside-in’ thinking lays down the groundwork necessary for step 3: an effective, creative process in Raise Ideas. Ideas are generated, evaluated and developed into concrete concepts. The last two steps of the expedition concern testing the appeal of the concepts and building support. During step 4, Test Ideas, the newly developed concepts are tested among the potential target group. In the final step, step 5 – Homecoming, the most promising concepts are worked out as mini new business cases and presented to the members of senior management, who have been anxiously waiting in anticipation for the unveiling of the expedition’s homecoming.

FORTH is the end of the begin of innovation. After FORTH concepts are ready to be developed in your regular R&D or business development processes.

Innovation is no walk in the park. Innovation is an expedition.

By Gijs van Wulfen

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About the author

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) helps organizations to start innovation effectively as author, speaker and facilitator.
He is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. With FORTH he create attractive innovative products and services with great internal support with a multidisciplinary team. In his latest book ‘The Innovation Expedition’ he makes innovation very accessible by telling the story in a visual way. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organizations. Gijs also trains and certifies facilitators in his method.

He is a keynote speaker at international innovation conferences and was chosen by LinkedIn as one of their 150 Thought Leaders.

Photo: Man hiking silhouette in Himalaya mountains from