I love detective novels. It doesn’t matter the setting or protagonist. I’ve enjoyed Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus, set in Edinburgh and Gary Disher’s novels about Hal Challis in Australia. I’ve just finished three books by Camilleri, who features Detective Montalbano in Sicily. The setting can be a significant contributor to the story, or just a backdrop. The detective can be a fine upstanding individual or an idiot savant, who rubs his colleagues the wrong way but solves crime. Good detective fiction is the same where ever it is set, whoever is the detective. The best stories present a lot of clues during the novel, and force you to put the pieces together. Often, at the end a critical clue or insight springs from nowhere to confirm a suspicion or cast doubt on a course of investigation.
Police dramas often focus on three key aspects of a crime: means, motive and opportunity. That is, did a person have the “means” to commit the crime, were they driven by a specific motive, and did they have the opportunity to commit the crime. If all of these things are true about an individual, then there’s a good chance you’ve found your killer. If one or more of these are missing or can’t be discovered, the chances of solving a crime are bleak. These are some of the “critical” components to solving a crime. Similarly, innovation has some “critical” components that in our experience are often incomplete, if not completely absent.
As innovators, we should be detectives, asking ourselves, what critical components for innovation success does this client lack?
I’ve listed a few critical components for innovation success below. If you are starting an innovation project, make sure they exist and are fully supported. If you’ve “failed” at an innovation activity, perhaps this is a good “post mortem” to find out what went wrong.
Sorry, but when you ask people to innovate, they need to understand where the firm is trying to go. Should innovation serve to drive more of the same – pursue the same customers and markets? Are we trying to extend our value proposition in existing markets, segments and products? Are we trying to enter new markets, industries, geographies or segments?
People laugh at the “vision” thing. Vision and mission are often overwrought and useless, because executives state them once at a corporate meeting and then let the business go back to whatever it was doing previously. Most corporations have strategies and visions that are frequently communicated and never understood two levels down below the CEO. Unless and until you can create a purposeful, meaningful vision that you can communicate to innovators, you can’t innovate successfully.
What’s the business opportunity or problem that if addressed drives new revenue and growth and fulfills the vision? Can you collapse that to a statement? If your vision is to grow your business into new channels or markets, can you create a two or three sentence description of the opportunity and how you’ll measure the results? The vision gives you DIRECTION, the opportunity provides SCOPE. You can’t innovate without a “vision” or strategy, but that’s not enough. You need to provide “scope” in terms of a specific opportunity or need or challenge.
Are you willing to do what it takes to discover needs and to learn about new markets or segments? Do you have the humility and patience to learn about unmet needs, to discover and validate stuff that you don’t know? Or will you simply wade into a new market and offer your same set of services and products, confident that you know more about what customers need than they do?
In hindsight many innovators will admit that they skipped this component. Instead of gathering insights they asserted that they knew what people needed. Or, they did perform some discovery work, mainly box checking, seeking insights that confirmed what they believed. Only innovators who are eager enough, curious enough, humble enough to learn something new really succeed.
Efficiency is easy, innovation is hard. Therefore, you need your best, most passionate people working not on the day to day efficiency stuff, but on the things that are difficult and critical to driving growth. Where are your best people focused today? What skills and knowledge do they have, and what do they lack? Are they even willing to take the “risks” that innovation presents? Do you have any ability to identify the people in your organization who have good innovation skills?
If you “can’t afford” to place your best people on an innovation activity, or if you can’t afford to give them the time and skills they need to succeed, don’t start.
Innovation is not a secret science, a black art or a magic formula. It consists of good problem definition, divergent/convergent thinking, discovery of needs, understanding future trends, generating good solutions in context of the discovery, rapid prototyping and feedback loops, and building new solutions that you can deliver to the market. There are a number of methodologies, processes and tools that support and sustain this process. Do you know them? More importantly, does anyone in your organization know how to use them effectively, and in the right combinations?
The most critical missing piece in this list is…whichever one is missing. All of these matter, and they all are interconnected. You can’t double down with great people and hope to achieve good innovation if they don’t understand the vision or opportunity, or lack discovery or tools. The best advice I can give, and frequently give our clients, is to slow down innovation projects to assess which components exist and, if they exist, their capabilities and commitments.
Paul Hobcraft and I created the Executive Workmat as an assessment for this reason. OVO offers Executive Workmat assessments as a service to our clients and prospects, so that you can understand and shore up gaps or missing components before you start innovating, rather than discovering the gap and trying to fix it during a critical innovation activity.
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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 Relentless Innovation and the blog Innovate on Purpose.