Never Start Innovation with an Idea!

Never Start Innovation with an Idea!Never start product or service innovation with an idea. Of course: innovation is initially about ideas. About getting the right ones. And realising these ideas in practice. A shining light bulb has become a global symbol for innovation. Just check Google images and type innovation and then you will see proof of this.

The fuzzy front end of innovation confronts you with a lot of questions. In my new book ‘Creating innovative Products and Services.  I try to solve them with the FORTH innovation method.

Here are three reasons why you should not start with an idea.

  1. An idea makes you blind. Once you have your idea you will probably fall in love with it. That’s a great feeling indeed. But love makes blind, unfortunately. The psychological phenomenon of selective perception will make you see only the positive points of the idea and only listen to people who are supporting you. If this is the case, you will run into a hard wall 80 percent of the time without an alternative or alternatives to test.
  2. It’s very difficult to convince others. What happens when you tell your idea to someone else? Their first reaction often starts often with a ‘but…’ Others within your company will start criticising your idea the moment it is told to them if only because the idea is not theirs. Furthermore companies are structured to maintain the current operational processes and account for the results produced. Should the size and complexity of the organisation increase, innovation often becomes more difficult. Too often, the process of innovation seems almost unnatural. A solution is getting ideas together in a team setting so the ownership of the idea is shared.
  3. Only 1.5 out of 7 product ideas are introduced. A number of studies on new product innovation (Robert G. Cooper, 2011) showed that for every seven new-product ideas, about 4 enter development, 1.5 are launched and only 1 succeeds. These are poor odds as there is a chance of around 1 in 5 that your idea will reach the market. So what do you do when your boss, the Vice-President of Marketing or the Innovation Board stops your new product idea? Do you have any alternatives available to test and realise your business challenge? So never bet on one horse. That’s the message.

So, how should you start innovation?

You should never start an innovation expedition unprepared. As good preparation not only increases the chances of success but it also creates priorities, direction and the will to succeed. That’s why it is essential to start with a clear and concrete innovation assignment. This forces the top management in your company, from the start, to be concrete about the market/target group for which the innovations must be developed and which criteria these new concepts must meet. This forms the guidelines for you and your innovation team when you are underway. You can formulate the innovation assignment with the help of the following six questions:

  1. Why?  (Why do we want to innovate)
  2. Who?  (Who is the target group)
  3. Where?  (For which distribution channels, countries, regions or continents)
  4. What?  (Evolutionary or revolutionary; products, services and/or business models)
  5. When? (Intended year of introduction)
  6. Which? (Which criteria the new concepts should meet)

So in discussion with your top management, you can collectively formulate which criteria the new product/service ideas must meet as well as determine the ambition level.

This innovation assignment gives direction and manages expectations of both the top management as the members of the innovation team. You can download a free checklist on how to make an innovation assignment at the website of the FORTH innovation method.

I wish you a lot of success jump-starting innovation: not with an idea but with a concrete assignment!

image credit:

Clearworks - Customers, Connections, Clarity

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Gijs van WulfenGijs van Wulfen leads ideation processes and is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. He is the author of Creating Innovative Products & Services, published by Gower.

This entry was posted in Consumer Innovation, Creativity, Innovation, Open Innovation, Product Innovation, marketing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Never Start Innovation with an Idea!

  1. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | Never Start Innovation with an Idea!

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  3. Paul Sloane says:

    Are just trying to be provocative or do you believe this? I cannot agree with your arguments. Many great innovations started with an idea. Your preferred approach is ponderous and systematic. It will work some of the time but your approach eliminates all the spontaneity of innovation. You are rejecting the excitement which a great idea can generate.

  4. Dear Paul,

    Thanks for your response. It’s okay if you do not agree with me.

    I was just wondering how do you know the method is ponderous? And how do you know it eliminates all spontaneousness? And how do you know it rejects the excitement of a great idea?

    kind regards,

    Gijs van Wulfen

  5. Vera Hruba says:

    Hello. I am involved in the innovation, technology transfer etc. field for some time now, but there are still people out there, and there are many of them, who confuse the term “innovation” with creativity. Innovation means “upgrading”, nothing less and nothing more. Some people may call it “evolution”.And it´s true, that the first impulse for innovation comes from the company or market demand, based on proper market analysis. First logic, then creativity – let the left and right brain hemispheres cooperate, it´s for the advantage of your case – well, this means being truly creative. Innovation and creativity are just buzz words these days, like a new glorified tool of PR. “Image is everything.” Even Apple and Steve Jobs used these words to build up the corporate identity, but these are just words without systematic approach. There is still tough business behind it and all hungry market sharks are waiting… Have a nice day and good luck with your business!- Preferably without hungry sharks…:D

  6. Lisa says:

    Ideas are a dime a dozen.

    I work at a business incubator and I’m blown away by how many people come up with new ideas and then try to force them into a market. The approach I’ve found to be most successful is to start by focusing on the market problem – what’s broken, what do people find frustrating – and how big a deal is this frustration? Once you define the problem or the opportunity – the ideas and solutions appear – and the other aspects of the business model often flow naturally.

  7. Brian Mooney says:

    I agree that it is important to establish a focus for innovation and your questions help with that. The second step is to create a body of insights, and the third step is to use these insights to generate ideas. Your questions cover step 1.

  8. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | Innovators Look for Problems

  9. Pingback: Innovators Look for Problems « Lundsten | Consulting & Innovation

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