By: Jef Vandenberghe
“Eureka!’, Archimedes famously howled, while running butt naked through the streets of Syracuse. Soaking in his bath tub, the bearded Greek inventor had just discovered a new method of determining an object’s volume. Funnily enough, this well-known story captures two myths about innovation. One: it’s the work of a sole – and usually slightly eccentric – inventor. Two: chance has a part to play. For businesses, the reality is vastly different. Indeed, turning ideas into revenue requires quite a bit more than just ideation and luck.
Innovation projects often begin like this: a handful of people get squeezed into a room to hold a brainstorming session. Wild ideas are generously tossed around in an excited atmosphere of creativity and discovery.
After this magical light-bulb moment, however, the initial enthusiasm quickly dies off. A few months later, the commercially valuable outcome of said brainstorm turns out to be … well, disappointing. More often than not, this leads to frustration and convinces organizations to go back to what they do best: making money through good old predictable business models.
So what went wrong?
Although brilliant, novel ideas are essential, hard work will always be an essential part of successful innovation. As Thomas Edison once put it: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Renewing products, services or business processes is a two-part challenge: seeing new possibilities is one thing, but executing the ideas is a whole different ball game. Not realizing this simple fact is one of three main reasons why innovation fails.
The multistage process of innovation
The ideation phase of innovation is sometimes called the ‘fuzzy front-end’. It’s a messy and unregulated blizzard of ideas and possibilities. The ‘back-end’ is where things get more organized and linear. Breathing life into the ideas requires careful planning, technical development, commercialization strategies and much more. In short: it requires efficient and goal-oriented management.
Successful innovation is a complex process that goes through a number of stages. Each stage requires a specific set of skills. We link innovation-related behavior to three process stages:
- Ideation – This phase is all about new and compelling concepts. It requires creative idea generators that look at a problem or challenge from all possible angles. Ideation is more than just an uncontrolled train of thought: good ideators see new possibilities and can assess ideas to identify concrete business opportunities.
- Championing – Unfortunately, ideas never implement themselves. Action-oriented follow-through depends on champions: the people who can sell an idea, acquire support and mobilize the necessary resources.
- Implementation – Eventually, it’s time to get some hands dirty. In the implementation phase, the practical details are worked out by excellent project managers and inventive problem-solvers. They facilitate development and prototyping, and are able to handle complaints.
Building an innovation dream team
By assessing the innovation skills of their existing and future employees, companies can compose specialized innovation dream teams. Through coaching, re-orientation or targeted hires, they can gradually strive towards an effective mix of ideators, champions and implementators.
These teams are able to go beyond the ‘fuzzy front-end’. They make changes that add value, in terms of either revenue growth or increased operational efficiency. After all, that’s what innovation is all about.
By Jef Vandenberghe
About the author
Jef Vandenberghe has been working in innovation consulting for over 10 years. He witnessed innovation success and failure. Intrigued by the human side of innovation he founded INNDUCE.me – the first tool helping you to compose successful teams & to develop a strategy that boosts your innovation success.