Frankly, I’d rather write about success than failure, especially in an innovation setting. But since it’s true that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, someone needs to tell its story.
We’ve all heard the mantra (and I’ve used it many times) that innovation will require some failure. In this regard what we are talking about primarily is fast experimentation, prototyping and piloting, which leads to new insights. What we don’t mean is consistent failure in the marketplace, which is simply a recipe for disaster. But what is also interesting is to begin to decipher why “innovations” failed, and what innovators can learn from those mistakes.
We believe that innovations fail in the marketplace based on one or more of four key issues:
- Ideas don’t solve an important problem for a customer
- Ideas take too long to get to market/Shifts in needs
- Ideas underfunded or poorly launched
- Ideas require too much work to adopt
Let’s address the first three briefly, and look at the fourth one in more depth.
1. Ideas Don’t Solve an Important and Relevant Problem
Many innovators assume that they understand what customers and prospects want and need, rather than doing the research to understand what customers want and need. We call this “inside-out” innovation and most firms are guilty of it. Their innovators and product managers think they understand customer needs based on some market research and company history and don’t engage customers to truly understand unmet or unarticulated needs. When the products or services are launched, there are few buyers and the ideas seem uninteresting. That’s because the needs were formed based on misunderstanding or a lack of interaction to discover what customers want.
Solution: Use scenario planning and qualitative research like Voice of the Customer or Ethnography to gain more insights!
2. Ideas Take Too Long to Get to Market or Needs Shift
Since many organizations don’t have a well-tuned innovation process, even when firms identify the right needs it may take years for a new product to get to market, completely missing a market window. Or a firm may have decision cycles (annual planning, anyone?) that slows the development and restricts funding of new ideas. So a great ideas languishes in product development limbo and when it is finally released it has missed the market window or needs have shifted.
Solution: Define a funding mechanism to sponsor ideas that occur out of sequence with annual planning cycles, and develop a well-tuned innovation process to convert ideas to new products and services.
3. Ideas are Poorly Launched
No matter how well you conceive the idea and how well it’s developed, if the new product or service isn’t launched effectively, considering its place in the ecosystem and the PR and marketing necessary to get the word out, it won’t be successful. Built it and they will come is a fool’s errand. Even the best ideas must be effectively marketed and promoted, yet far too often good ideas are barely marketed at all. Contrast this with Apple’s approach to revealing new products – the CEO presents the new product as if it were the second coming. If your company has a great new innovative product or service, understand how to launch it, or be prepared for disappointment.
Solution: Perhaps we can’t all do the “reveal” like Steve Jobs, but we can place more emphasis on building excitement for the launch of a new product or service.
4. Understand the Adoption Cycle or Barriers
Innovators see the value of their ideas innately, and can’t imagine why anyone would not immediately switch allegiances to their product or service. Customers, on the other hand, are the ones who make determinations about how difficult the transition from one product or service will be. Far too frequently, consumers remain wedded to products and services that offer them less convenience and less value than other offerings in the market, because the effort to change appears too high. Frankly, this issue is probably the biggest challenge to new innovative products and services. Understanding the adoption issues and addressing them in the product and in the launch can make all the difference.
Inertia suggests that bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, and customers with existing relationships and patterns tend to retain those patterns. If your innovation seeks to disrupt existing patterns and actions, it had better offer tremendous benefits and a bridge to port information between the existing platform and your new platform. Otherwise, few customer may make the leap, even for a significant change in value. The adoption effort is not a barrier to be taken lightly. It is, in fact, one of the biggest barriers for new innovative ideas to overcome. And, because innovators fall in love with their ideas and fail to see the barriers, adoption barriers often receive the least consideration.
Solution: Understand the entire value proposition of the products or offerings you are trying to displace or disrupt. Help the prospect bridge between their existing platforms and standards and your new innovative product, or you may find that inertia overcomes innovation. Define a clear, simple path for people to follow as they leave behind their existing patterns and platforms so adoption is simple.
So here we finish, with another Covey principle: start with the end in mind. If your solution solves a problem that real customers have, great, your chances of an innovation success are increased. If your solution is easily adopted by your target customers, based on their needs and understanding of the adoption issues and not yours, then you have a winner.
Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.