Innovation Frustration: Five Ways to “Break Through”

Here are five reasons innovation goes wrong — and the actions you can take to right them.

You’ve had it with the investment in time and money put toward innovation programs with meager results. You’ve hired expensive, name-brand consultants. You believe in your process. But still, concept exploration yields the same old ideas. You struggle with decent ideas that are less than actionable. And concepts that prove out in research often fall flat in the marketplace.

What’s wrong?

Well, nothing. And everything. Nothing because you’re trying to unseat or at least meaningfully improve on a successful, long-standing product or package that embodies the very notion of “survival of the fittest.” And everything because you know in your gut that fresh insights remain undiscovered and that there’s always a better solution. But you just can’t seem to find it.

Why? And what might you do to increase the odds of surfacing a true breakthrough? Consider these 5 reasons innovation goes wrong and the actions you can take to help right them:

1. You’re misusing consumers. Don’t let their expressed preferences lead you astray. Consumers are great at demonstrating behavior and reacting viscerally to an object they can touch and use. But they are lousy at rationalizing their choices and parsing multiple features in a concept board. Don’t ask them to, or risk being fooled. The bottom line is that consumers should inspire but not drive concept development. Yes, it’s tricky.

2. You’re too late. By the time you’ve spotted the trend, surfaced the insight, created the concept and built the tooling, your consumers have moved on. Or your competition got there first. While process creates discipline, it can also bog down your project. Consider ways to shortcut or merge the insight and exploration efforts. Work with consumers to generate real-time solutions and mock them up fast. And don’t push for a custom solution when a stock one may give you 80 percent of the benefit in a fraction of the time.

3. Your ideation approach is fuzzy. Without a design strategy for direction, unfocused ideation will quickly take you a mile wide and an inch deep. Identify the strongest insight-inspired platforms and dive in. Fill out a concept matrix where platforms line the top and actionability ranges along the side. And maybe you’re committed to the notion that “there are no bad ideas.” Well … there are bad movies and bad haircuts: So yes, there are bad ideas. Weed them out quickly, or they will sap your team’s energy.

4. You’ve scrapped your best idea. The team spent three days (or weeks) in a windowless room ideating. Then, it spent just an hour or two evaluating the work with a stack of Post-Its. I could write a book on how wrong this is. But for now, let’s admit that many great ideas get trashed because they are stuck in a concept sketch that otherwise makes people “uncomfortable.” As presented, it’s not actionable. Or it’s not attractive. And no one has the stamina left to fight for the best of it. Remember that a preliminary concept is just that. It represents an idea; it doesn’t define one. Just because consumers can’t reliably find the brilliance in a concept doesn’t mean you can’t. There may be a hundred ways to execute on a good early-stage idea. You only need one.

5. You’ve neutered a great solution. I’m convinced that often the best idea comes from a single mind. And that person has a vision for how it might be executed. But when the idea is let out of the bag, everyone gets a piece of it. It becomes compromised to satisfy each and every cross-functional requirement. It quickly loses its mojo. It becomes all things for all people, when it started out as one great thing for those who matter most — consumers. Try sequestering a great idea for a while. Incubate it in a room of two or three who are sympathetic and share the vision. See what happens.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t lose faith. There are unrecognized insights to be captured. And they will inspire new to the world solutions. And those solutions can be tremendously successful in the marketplace. Sure, it’s a bit of a minefield. But there is also huge leverage in doing a few small things better. I think that’s the true spirit of innovation.

 

 

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