Is Innovation Simple?

Is Innovation Simple?Innovation is hard, isn’t it?  That seems to be the prevailing wisdom.  This was going through my mind when I read a good post from Tim Kastelle recently.  Tim described how some of his innovation consultancy projects go through three phases – simplistic, complex and finally, simple.  The objective is to produce an innovation that is simply communicated and easily understood; simple is the end objective of all good innovation.

Getting to the “simple” stage can be quite difficult, and it set me thinking about the simplicity of innovation.

There’s a fine line that can be crossed, becoming condescending and simplistic; Monty Python did a great take on this.  Despite the risk of crossing that line, I think that while, undoubtedly, many innovation challenges face highly complex technical and logistical barriers…

the structure of innovation should be very simple


Where does your organization want to be?  What is it trying to do?  Where are the greatest opportunities?  What is the mix of radical and incremental growth? Innovation should be geared to meeting strategic goals; creative challenges should also be aligned with strategy.  The 3 Horizons methodology and the conversations it promotes is useful here.


Even with a clear strategy, it’s highly unlikely that solutions will be straightforward.  A company must be competitive in preparing the future ground, developing intellectual property and capabilities not only to invent but also to take innovation to market quickly and efficiently.  At the same time, you should avoid NIH (Not Invented Here).


A deep understanding of who buys your product and why, is essential for incremental innovation, and, as Ralph Ohr points out, a strong input for radical innovation. The key is to then use it to develop insights, a deep and profound understanding of the consumer that unlocks a strong business potential.


Ideas should be founded on the insights you generate.  They can and should come from anywhere.  This includes company employees, using carefully managed idea systems; focused creative sessions; and employing Open Innovation to source new ideas from outside company boundaries.  Ideas that make it through your (simple) screening process should prioritize easily explained benefits above potentially complex features.


You can’t put all your eggs in one basket.  A portfolio approach to what enters development; how resources are prioritized against projects; and what is launched is a fundamental tool in innovation. The objective is to have a balance of risk and return which meets your strategic objectives.


Product development is often seen as the “just do it” stage, but it probably needs more focus and attention than the others.  Have a (simple) Stage-Gate system to smooth the project path.


It’s very important to validate not only ideas, but also prototypes, iterations and prospective final product, with customers. The feedback systems should be as objective as possible.


As soon as the launch party is finished, it’s often easy for the product developers to turn their attention to the next product development project.  It’s important to keep an eye on early feedback, support the launch and help it to get over the “chasm” by making swift improvements and appropriate course corrections.


The culture of an organization is all pervasive, which is a good thing if it is supportive to innovation.  Doing the right things delivers the right culture.

Other approaches that overlay the innovation process and have the potential to improve it, while keeping the structure simple, are:


Design Thinking, most notably advocated by Ideo, is defined as combining empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality in analyzing and fitting various solutions to the problem context.  It’s an approach that can bring you closer to the customer, be smarter in generating new ideas and develop products that not only work better but also have superior aesthetics.


The Lean Startup philosophy as advocated by Eric Ries sprung out of software development.  At its core is the build-deploy-measure-learn cycle, aiming to get to a Minimum Viable Product as soon as possible.  The principles are now relevant to anyone, not just startups.


Open Innovation can help to fill the ideas pipeline.  It can provide complementary skills and resource.  Most importantly it can put long-term innovation relationships in place.  It recognizes that there are more smart experts outside your company than inside, so it makes sense to work with them.

So – simple, isn’t it?

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This entry was posted in Build Capability, Innovation, Leadership, Management, Open Innovation, People & Skills, Processes & Tools, R&D, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Is Innovation Simple?

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  5. Marshall Barnes says:

    BRAVO! I’m critical of some posts here (but saving that mostly now for my own blog, but I always like to praise the good stuff when I see it. This was strike (in bowling terms), knocked it out of the ball park. Total touchdown and just the kind of thing that most people need to read about innovation.

    And OMG, how did you do it with ZERO buzz words! In fact, I don’t think the number one word that MUST be in EVERY innovation article was used even once. That’s right – DISRUPTION. Do you know how much freakin’ trouble you’re going to get in now, mister, for forgetting to mention DISRUPTION at least once? That’s the kind of thing that could get you banned from here, I’m sure…

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  8. Ben Simonton says:

    You certainly did hit the ball out of the park as Marshall said, Kevin. And as you imply, culture is the key because only a value based culture shared by all employees will put together all the elements you list.

    Sadly, creating such that supportive culture is very poorly understood, mostly because leadership is wildly misunderstood. That seems to be because the science of people is wildly misunderstood and we are stuck in the failed strategies of behaviorism.

    Best regards, Ben

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