If your metric of ‘ideation’ success is to fill a wall with coloured squares, you will probably never miss your target at an innovation workshop. Sticky notes are the friend of the unskilled moderator.
Of course, sticky notes are a great thing, functionally. The problem is, after the meeting, most of them get thrown away, and the few that are kept as The Next Big Ideas are also thrown away, eventually. Here’s why:
1 What goes on tour stays on tour
In ideation terms, this translates to ‘what’s said in the room doesn’t work in the real world.’
Take your top three ideas from your last innovation session to the CSuite and they will probably bomb. Without context to support them, most often the argument is ‘so, where does this sit in the budget?’
Easy not to hug. Easy to discount. Easy to kill.
2 Show me the data, then show me the money
There is no data. This is future opportunity. The only data available is for what happened in the past and the problem with that is, it’s in the past.
The internal innovation process MUST be led by new information, new insight, new attitudes and a willingness to explore your company’s survival. There are many businesses here today who won’t be around for ever (or for long, in some cases) and the reason is that their markets are changing, and they aren’t.
Innovation is about survival as much as growth, but current budgets are measured in profitability. The mis-match is clear to see.
3 Not all ideas are equal
You only need to look under the right stone to find the winning idea. On that wall of sticky notes, there probably is one idea that will underpin your business into the next era. The trick is to recognise it.
Designing a process that specifies how concepts should be assessed must happen before you ideate. The process has to be informed by somebody determining what good looks like.
If you haven’t got these ducks lined up, leave the stickies in the drawer.
4 Perfection isn’t the objective. Good enough is
I’m not saying, launch crap. I’m saying, launch fast. Iterate fast. Develop fast. And importantly, start fast.
Pick the idea that meets your need and get on with it. Consumers will tell you if your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) works or not. The only thing they need is access to it.
What you launch is inevitably not what you will end up selling in time. Look at every design icon out there for examples. The VW Golf is a good one. The Wright Brothers’ plane is another. Great things do evolve, but they start quickly and develop as uses and attitudes are reflected in design.
5 Close the process off
Innovation is talked about as being one of those nebulous, unspecific functions that might deliver great things but most often doesn’t.
The money pumped into ‘innovation’ is probably matched by the frustration everybody else in the company feels towards its lack of impact. Why? Because the timeline is vague. Give a target a date to hit and the pressure is on.
Allow innovation to wander off and you’ve lost already. An innovation process needs to be more than S.M.A.R.T.
An innovation process should have:
- A start date – on this date, that thing will happen.
- A finish date – by this date, we will have done that thing.
- Metrics – this is how we will decide what to do, this is how we will decide which candidate wins, and this is how we will measure success.
- A team – collaboration is the most powerful tool you have and it won’t cost you any more than you’re paying already.
Think of it like this: put ten of your people in a room for half a day and you’ve just amassed five days’ work in four hours. See if your CFO can argue with that.
Finally, to avoid any doubt about your intention to ‘innovate’, announce when this work starts, describe how it will be done and what it will achieve – in advance. Give people notice. Get them clamouring to be involved. Give them time to train for the event – they will.
When you start them off, watch them fly. Your innovation process can be the most pivotal moment in your company’s history, if you get it right.
Future thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do. Call now. 020 7193 8838
You can download an infographic of this checklist here.
In the post-war years, Winston Churchill was a keen advocate of a united Europe, insisting that the UK would benefit from being in the club, rather than an outside observer. Boris Johnson’s 2014 book The Churchill Factor applauds him for the stance that eventually took us in to the ‘European Experiment’.
Not long after that, Johnson led the campaign to leave Europe, and we all know how that turned out. Many believe that a second referendum now would give a different result. Who knows? What we can be sure of is that people change their minds and, as market research companies know very well, what people say and what they do aren’t always the same.
China used to be a secretive sort of place with little known about its leaders or their ambitions. Today the country holds a good chunk of world debt in its hands and is one of a very small number of manufacturing powerhouses that feeds the world market with consumable products. And yet, with Brexit now a reality and the GBP exchange rate as it is, Eastern manufacture is less viable. There is a significant trend towards companies setting up manufacture in the UK again.
Is the trend observable elsewhere too? It may be for different reasons, but America – once the exporter of everything we aspired to owning and the dream we all wanted – has begun putting up trade barriers to control imports. The ‘America First’ cry suggests a change in the supply chain that has become deeply established over the last thirty years.
Cyclical? Yes. Circular? Not yet.
Plastic is the friend of the supply chain. It protects, controls, insulates and encapsulates whatever it surrounds. It gets things from A to B with less waste and more efficiency: until we start to get critical of the full cost of using plastic in absolutely everything and realise that we can walk across the sea. Recent reports indicate that food waste figures are rising along with the use of plastic to protect it. For a while, the interested parties will lobby for no change and eventually, when the situation has become almost irretrievable, they’ll lose the argument and the whole way we ship and source will change. Can I be sure about that? Well, yes – to an extent, because that’s what happens.
How many times have you lived through a company divesting itself of interests only to start acquiring businesses soon afterwards? Governments are great at de-centralising and re-centralising. It happens so often that we are almost immune to the rationalising that goes on to justify the expense of the activity. Google becomes Alphabet, Smith and Wesson becomes AOB, the Department for Trade and Industry becomes the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The words we choose to describe an activity change because somebody feels a need to redefine themselves. Maybe they’ve pivoted into a different area of interest, or want to distance themselves from something. In any event, it’s called ‘Communication’. It reflects an activity called Positioning and we used to call it all Marketing.
How is this useful in the realm of innovation?
Products usually meet their moment. Sooner or later an idea is right for the time. What is thought of as groundbreaking and trail-blazing today will lose its shine tomorrow. What has no value today will accrue some down the line. It’s why people have sheds full of screws and nails, and sewing boxes with scraps and off-cuts. It’s the human way. Inherently we value everything.
The point is that ideas shouldn’t be discarded. They should be kept in view with the reasons for their feasibility constantly displayed. As you work along your innovation strategy that sets out your trajectory along a timeline and a line of technical difficulty, these ideas will become more, or less, reasonable. Their pros will match a market need and their cons will push them down the priority list, but not off it – depending who is looking, when and from what perspective.
The message then is this: don’t discard an idea just because it looks stupid now. Its time will come and it will meet a need on your strategic plan when the time is right.
Of course, this assumes you have an innovation strategy guiding your business holistically, and that your team is used to the plan changing to meet the evolving needs of your market.
You don’t have one of those? No problem. Let’s start on that now.
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do. room44 innovates