Innovation metrics: to delight or deliver? What are yours?


Innovation metrics vary from company to company and you have a part in deciding them.

I’ve never met Sir James Dyson. I don’t know how long it took for his cyclone technology to work its way from being a vacuum cleaning disruptor to the king of everything that forces air through small holes. But I’m willing to bet that the Dyson Airblade started with an unsatisfactory hand-washing experience. So, consumer-centricity delivered an adaptation and Dyson set off down a fork in the road to even greater success.

Google ‘Do the right thing’, and you’ll get about three and a half million results, but this one says it well: “Civilization rests on the fact that most people do the right thing most of the time.” (Dean Koontz)

In the case of innovation, it’s perhaps not that easy.

Once you’ve made the decision to settle on a particular concept as an investment prospect, the ‘business’ takes over. Cost accountants and budget managers begin to shave off the sharp edginess of the idea by trying to work it into existing manufacturing methods (or whatever is the ‘standard’ in your company) and, slowly, ambition dwindles. With time and familiarity, the idea comes under endless scrutiny. Budgetary pressure, the return on investment, and the time to return all have a part to play in making the overall metric of innovation so hard to quantify.

This is unfortunate, because companies that keep the consumer at the heart of their thing do quite well. Take a cursory look at how consumers regard Dyson and, say, Hoover and you’ll see that the characters of the brands are described very differently. Similarly, Alessi and Good Grips, or Apple and Dell. On the one hand, we have brands rooted in design, aiming for function that delivers daily delight; on the other, we have function simply designed to be efficient.

Different causes. Similar effects, except that Dyson, Apple and Alessi do what they do, apparently, with you and me at their core – while Hoover, Dell and Good Grips just want to get the job done. To centre your creativity in consumer delight may be far more sustainable than trying to hit a number.

Of course, there may always be a perceived conflict between doing what’s best and doing what’s expedient. Set up your innovation function as a department and give someone a target – for example, three blockbuster products in 12 months – and this department has little option but to send a swarm of tech scouts out to suppliers and trade shows to find someone to collaborate with, or something new to buy. This is how business behaves expediently. There’s nothing wrong with it – if you exclude consumer sentiment in what you do.

Pushing purchased data into a plan can only deliver an idea that tries to meet targets set in the past. This is basically what research is: history. Pedantically, what you get is R&D. Not innovation.

Alternatively, deciding what you want to be known for and setting out to deliver against ambition takes a lot of soul-searching and a resolve to delight, not just deliver.

This probably sounds idealistic and romantic to the corporates among you. But do remember this – in order for you to be able to buy an idea, someone needed to be “…the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently.”

To quote Steve Jobs again: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.

Drop a line to me here to find out how we can help you connect the dots and learn to use future forecasting and innovation as your tools of choice for growth.