A couple of months ago I shared what I consider to be the Ten Mistakes even Great Companies Make when innovating. Whilst it is useful to have these “watch out” lists, I believe it is also beneficial to take a look at how other companies get it right.
This post was prompted by a new client who is one of those already doing innovation extremely well and yet is still looking to improve their thinking. That for me is the sign of a truly innovative company. So read on for some ideas on how you too can become great at innovating.
Set Stretch Launch Targets
Let me start by saying there is a huge difference between the quantity and quality of innovations in almost all companies. In fact I believe there is an inverse relationship between the two. Those that innovate a lot rarely do it well. I think this is because they have the pressure of meeting objectives of numbers of new launches, rather than numbers of successful launches.
What is a successful launch? For me it is meeting or beating carefully thought through and calculated objectives. Not those wishfully high numbers used to get management buy-in for the launch, nor those ridiculously low targets that everyone knows will be met even before the new product is launched. No, I mean objectives that are stretch targets but achievable with the right plan, actions and effort. In other words SMART.
Be Inspired by your Customers
There are a lot of very clever organisations, especially in the technology area, which develop incredibly innovative products. Apple is (was?) obviously one of these and until recently, was admired for its innovations. Now it has been claimed that Steve Jobs didn’t believe in market research. This is untrue. He did believe in market research, but market research done right. He didn’t ask consumers what they wanted, because he said they didn’t know. Instead he asked them what their problems were, what they dreamt about. He then showed them his answers to these and got their reactions. Even when he got his answers, he didn’t immediately start adapting products to meet these stated needs, but rather worked to underst and what consumers meant by what they asked for. As the infamous Ford quote says
“If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse!”
Jobs didn’t build a faster tape player, or a smaller one, or a lighter one. He made “music on the go” more convenient, more accessible and above all, more fun.
Use a Flexible Approach to Idea Generation
Many companies approach innovation as a strict process. They will use something similar to the below funnel, brainstorming for a multitude of ideas that eventually get whittled down to the one or two new launches that are finally chosen.
There are many companies today offering new processes and ways of innovating, but they all come down to a finite number of alternative levers:
- Start from your strengths and / or weaknesses
- Start from the strengths and / or weaknesses of your competitors
- Extend into adjacent categories
- Extend into new channels
- Extend into new presentations (packs, prices, communications)
They also use one of three models to reduce their number of possible choices in their selection process:
- Start large and reduce down (the st andard “funnel” approach shown above)
- Start small and exp and before selecting (inverse funnel approach)
- Repeated executions of the combination of the above expansion and contraction of ideas (sometimes referred to as the accordion approach)
Whichever you decide to use, you eventually get to a decision of the one, or few, launch choices, at least in most cases. Truly innovative companies are not limited to one process or tool, and are open to idea generation from however and wherever it might come.
Make Innovation Everyone’s Responsibility
Innovation is for the privileged few in (too) many organisations today. Teams are separated off to concentrate on being “more creative” or to “bond” with R&D. However truly innovative companies use open innovation where everyone can have and share ideas about the company’s process, products and customers. In a great article on this (“ Who blocks innovation?”) Jeffrey Phillips ends with a wonderful short story:
“There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry with that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realizes that Everybody wouldn’t do it.
It ended that Everybody blamed Somebody then Nobody did what Anybody could have done”
Great companies are often great because they are very innovative. And they are very good at innovating because of three highly effective habits:
- They set appropriate stretch targets for every new launch; good is never good enough
- They listen to their customers, but don’t do what they say, but rather what they mean
- They open idea generation to be inspired by a multitude of different processes, tools and above all people
Would you add another habit? Have I forgotten an important trait? Please let me know what you would add or feel free to react with your comments below.
C³Centricity used images from Dreamstime in this post.