RadioBDC Logo
| Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

Unleash creativity for better innovation

Posted by Chad O'Connor  December 5, 2013 11:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Innovation is about bringing something new and different to market. It is the lifeblood of corporate growth; the path to winning in new markets and surviving in existing ones.

Life-altering innovations are rare, but memorable: the Model T Ford, the first television set and, most recently, the smartphone. Successful innovations on a smaller scale occur more frequently. Think about the Swiffer mop, Tide Pods laundry detergent, or liquid water enhancers.

Yet the ugly truth is that most new innovations fail. According to Nielsen data, two out of every three products are destined to fail, no matter where in the world a company operates.

And just to add insult to injury, it takes an excruciatingly long time and a significant amount of money to develop these failed innovations. So let’s be honest—the way most companies approach innovation is not working.

But why?

Historically, the most common approach to innovation has been to follow a “stage-gate” process, which breaks down the development cycle into distinct stages separated by gates (beginning with a product concept and ending with a fully finished product that is ready to ship). At each gate, the new product is evaluated by a committee that determines whether or not it deserves further investment.

This sounds like a rigorous and disciplined way to tackle a complex and critical business problem, right? So why is it consistently unsuccessful? The reasons are numerous, but most pressing is the fact that technology isn’t playing a critical role, especially the early stages.

Let’s take a look at a number of areas where the process falls down:

1. Current systems don’t adequately support the early stages of innovation.
In the early stages of innovation, teams tend to converge quickly on a specific product specification with a specific value proposition. This is a big problem. That’s because once you establish a “core” for your new product, you typically experience some level of cognitive dissonance when you deviate from that core.

Teams get locked in to a narrow range of possibility based on their “first cut”— but how often does your first or second attempt at anything produce your best result? The key here is to first consider many different alternatives so that you can identify the most commercially viable foundation for your new product.

2. Current systems create an awkward, frustrating environment for creative thinkers.
Existing processes struggle to support “out-of-the-box” creative thinking in the context of risk mitigation efforts and time-to-market pressures. Sure, go ahead and have a brainstorming session to come up with a bunch of potential break-through ideas— just make sure you immediately eliminate 99% of those ideas so you can get to work. And don’t ask us to support anything too risky— nobody gets fired when we play it safe! Teams need a mechanism that will allow bold ideas have a fair chance of surviving early on.

3. Current systems only require compliance for “high-risk” initiatives.
Because existing processes are slow, painful and unreliable, teams skip steps whenever they can, usually for innovations that are deemed “lower-risk.” This results in an undisciplined approach to many new product initiatives. And businesses really suffer when this undisciplined approach affects supposedly “low-risk” initiatives that turn out to be a lot more important than initially thought. Teams need systems that are scalable across all types of innovation.

How do we revamp the process?

When it comes to innovation systems, we can and should do a better job of fostering breakthrough ideas in a faster, more accurate way. Technology should lead the way.
Companies must engage consumers early in the process so that a broad range of ideas are evaluated and options are not limited too quickly. This will allow the most commercially viable ideas to carry forward. Furthermore, companies must implement systems that are truly scalable across all innovation scenarios, so that all initiatives follow a disciplined process.

Organizations that follow these principles will fully leverage their creative talents, and dramatically improve innovation success rates. Creating a system for more successful innovation is a daunting task, but as with most of today’s critical business challenges, committing to technology is the smartest way forward.

Waleed Al-Atraqchi is President and CEO of Affinnova, a global marketing technology company that dramatically improves innovation and marketing success rates.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Boston World Partnerships' expert "Connectors" discuss business strategy, entrepreneurship, Boston's place in the world economy, and much more. Using their insider perspective, they illuminate how Boston's innovative companies start, grow, scale, and go global.

Meet Boston's coolest, smartest and most dynamic founders in our REEL Innovators video series!