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The process of innovation

One of my favorite topics: innovation. It is when a company stops to innovate that she dies. This is just the basic Darwin principle that applies to products and corporations. It might seem obvious but experience has taught me that this concept is not always applied. Innovation cannot be just a cycle, a project, and we are done.

It needs to be part of the DNA of the organization. All organizations, somehow, should have somebody responsible for innovation, who is looking ahead and trying to disrupt, break and redo for a better future. We can argue that innovation can come from everywhere. I would say yes for the idea generation but not for the execution. Managing innovation is an expertise. It does follow a process and it takes a very specific mind. People more comfortable with innovation show the following traits:

  • They are not afraid of failure.

  • They are not happy with the status quo and redoing the same thing over and over. They are prompt to testing and incremental development.

  • They are very humble and always ready to put into question their own ideas by testing, researching, confirming.

  • They are very open-minded and open to what is happening out there.

  • They do not rehash things they came across 10 years ago like they did not learn anything new since then.

  • They love learning and will not impose ideas on others thinking they know best because they know that knowledge becomes obsolete very quickly.

  • They need to have great emotional intelligence in order to get the buy-in and get people to rally and be motivated about the project.

  • They know to manage the innovation process which is more than coming up with ideas. A lot of people have ideas but few know how to bring them to life.

Innovation means: 1. Ideation: generation of new ideas. These ideas are collected in a repository and organized based on pre-defined criteria important for the customer, the company or both. 2. Prioritization: the ideas need to be analyzed, measured from an ROI perspective, or a lifetime value or some other weighting criteria depending on the goal to achieve. These ideas will then be ordered by importance. 3. Definition: these ideas now need to become projects. Plan, requirements, budget, resource allocation, duration and return need to be put in place and worked out within the other priorities the organization is working on. 4. Execution: the projects need to be executed by iterations, giving them time to measure, assess and rectify when needed. 5. Testing: The new concept will be tested before execution, during execution, and after execution 6. Enhancements: the project will have many steps that need to be executed in the right order. The series of iterations will bring the final product to life. 7. Letting it go: this is very often the hardest for people working on innovation is to let the concept go. Either because it failed or because it succeeded. If it failed, they need to know when to stop and move on. Some people do not know to fail fast and they stick to a dog forever. If it succeeds, we need to be ready to hand it off to other teams who are going to mature the project and bring it back to a larger portfolio. The product becoming alive will then take different skills to market it.

Within each of these step, specific technics and tools are used to move through the cycle. As innovation can be fascinating, it can also cost a lot of money when badly done. People working on innovation are learning to do things on the cheap for a series of phases before moving to another one. I have seen some people spent 2 millions on a concept where we spent $200K for the same project for the whole process (including execution). It is a skillset and therefore not surprising that universities do offer curriculum specialized in the topic.


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