Increasing numbers of U.S. executives list innovation as a priority to drive growth and competitive differentiation. These business leaders intend to see this priority through. Despite significant investments, in both time and money, innovation initiatives often fail to create sustainable returns. Why do otherwise successful teams find it difficult to execute and maintain ongoing innovation initiatives?
For most companies, there are two main reasons. First, many teams turn and look inward when planning their innovation priorities. We’ve all been a part of internal brainstorm sessions where the stated goal is to come up with a short list of new projects or products. Products and projects that will differentiate you from the competition and dazzle customers. What new products will enhance your current offerings? And what new ideas will drive your company to the next level? Successful companies are full of smart and creative people, so why not start with these trusted minds? The minute you start planning your company’s future without real-world insights from your customers, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The inspiration and insights that drive success lie outside of your building. You have to go out and uncover them.
Steve Jobs famously believed his customers didn’t know what they wanted until they saw it. And while this has proven mostly true for Apple, most companies are not Apple. Most businesses do not redefine or create new product categories. For the majority of us, innovation should be driven by the ideas and feedback we receive from our customers. We must ask the right questions and get the insights we need to develop what our customers want, or will want, in the future. We need to be thoughtful and thorough in our approach, with an eye to solving our customers’ pains. Our product development should be driven by the customer data we receive. Then we need to iterate on continual customer feedback. Throwing ideas against the wall with internal brainstorm sessions, in the absence of customer data, will simply lead to products that miss the mark, frustrated internal teams, and minimal returns for your business.
The second reason innovation initiatives often falter is many organizations are so focused on solving the product and customer challenges that drive their bottom line, that they struggle to find the time to dedicate to innovation goals. The creativity and technical knowledge may be there, but perfecting their current products while simultaneously focusing on innovation plans can spread a team thin. And when time is dedicated to driving innovation, most businesses do not subscribe to a continuous and proven process that keeps the innovation pipeline full.
While there are a number of methods to help companies become more innovative, the key is sticking with a process that facilitates innovation on an ongoing basis with an accountability framework to ensure that teams are executing and getting results. It is important for the continuous innovation process to have three main components: the idea stream, value proposition design, and business model generation (I’ll touch upon these components in more detail in upcoming posts). The process should be constant, with ideas continuously flowing, backed up with regularly scheduled value proposition design activities and workshops and ongoing development of new business models. Without the rigor of a proven process, many companies find themselves falling significantly short of their innovation goals.
A large number of companies are learning the hard way. Innovation is more than an initiative that ebbs and flows with other business priorities. It is a discipline that requires the skills and ongoing resources to identify, test and develop new business models needed to drive a company to success with positive returns on investment. Innovation is not something you can fund one quarter and then back burner the next. It is an iterative process that only succeeds when teams adhere to a proven customer-centric innovation process to solve customer pains.