Advancing radical innovation is critical to the new product development process


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It’s easy to get excited about a new innovative product or feature, but does it make your customer’s life better? This should be the first question you ask when creating radical innovation. The cool factor is only as impressive as its ability to solve a real problem.

Forward-thinking companies understand the importance of optimizing core products while developing new offerings that align with the organization’s mission and purpose and solve significant customer challenges.

While a portfolio’s foundation consists of a core of tried and true products and experiences that consistently meet or exceed revenue expectations,  the portfolio's future is guided by new ideas that become the “next big thing.”  Such ideas can include radical new offerings which offer substantial revenue growth opportunities and open new markets. While innovation and new product development are critical, there’s a lot more for companies to consider, given the risk that radical innovation entails. Moving a promising idea from the whiteboard to actual development requires a great deal of legwork before getting the green light for development and scaleup.

Here are seven considerations for advancing your radical innovation

1. Set the stage for concept creation

Innovation thrives in the right culture. Ideas for radical innovation can come from anyone, but does everyone feel comfortable sharing them? Team members on the new product development front lines must be empowered to share ideas without fear of criticism or backlash. The fact is, you never know where the next great idea will come from, so it’s essential to create the right conditions for concept creation. Not every idea will be the next iPhone, but a disruptive product may never come to life if the person with the idea doesn’t feel comfortable sharing it. Even worse, they take the idea somewhere else where they think there might be a more receptive audience for it.

2. Features can be as innovative as a new product

How companies deliver exciting innovation has expanded in more recent times because offerings are now connected. Products are increasingly viewed as a collection of features, leading to feature-based innovation. Let’s take the automotive industry as an example.  Features added to the car have entirely revolutionized the driving experience. From early GPS navigation and airbags to recent intelligent headlights and windshield wipers with embedded sensors, a single innovative feature can drastically improve the success of an organization and its portfolio.

You don’t have to reinvent the automobile, but adding sensors that give the driver a better idea of how external air pressure affects safety and mileage would link directly to making the customer’s life better. These features might be positioned in the market as core to safety or economy, or even sustainability. Therefore, they would attract those consumers to whom these aspects are a priority in their lives.

3. Keep the customer’s problems—not your products—front and center

It’s very easy to get excited about a new innovative product or feature, but does it make your customer’s life better? This question should be your North Star when creating radical innovation. The cool factor is only as impressive as its ability to solve a real problem. This knowledge comes from developing customer relationships and actively listening to what they have to say. Often, a product team will unearth friction the customer is experiencing, even if the customer doesn’t articulate that problem directly. Understanding the customer’s point of view and their pain points will help product teams identify a solution and then determine the best way to address it with a product or feature. They might be looking at a radical new solution with a lot of risks, but it will be grounded in a real market opportunity.

4. Make sure an innovative idea fits the mission

One of the hardest things to do is move on from a fantastic new product idea that doesn’t directly align with the company’s values and strategic goals. Going back to the automotive industry example, an electric car company’s mission is sustainable transportation, and their line exclusively features smaller cars. The company wouldn’t release a revolutionary hybrid vehicle because it goes against the mission.

On the other hand, developing a carbon-neutral SUV would align with the mission. Consumers—especially younger ones—are buying a brand’s values as much as they are its products.

5. Determine whether new product development is feasible

Radical innovation initiatives face many unknown variables between ideation and approval to move forward. One of the common stumbling blocks is whether the company can produce the product. Sometimes it’s as simple as not having the technology or experts to make it; other times, the issues might be timing-related, such as those we are experiencing with the current supply chain issues. But that doesn’t mean the new product idea should be killed. Perhaps it should be put on hold until the right elements are in place to move forward. Determining feasibility isn’t an easy process, but conducting and making decisions from this exercise can impact the likelihood of success.

6. Have as many answers as possible to move strategy to execution

New products and features are naturally under a lot of internal scrutiny because they represent significant risk and reward. It’s essential to identify any potential internal objections a product may face and counter those questions with reasonable responses that allay concerns. Some objections that might be raised, especially for radical innovation, include:

  • It’s too risky
  • We lack expertise in the technology
  • We don’t understand the market
  • It disrupts our mission as a company
  • We can’t afford it
  • Nobody has ever done this

A lot of the early work in disruptive innovation is related to pinpointing these objections ahead of time. Preparing for hard criticism will help build confidence in those responsible for moving the strategy to execution.


7. Create a funded, safe zone for radical innovation

You need to approach radical innovation differently. You cannot expect that everything you are doing will succeed. If your mindset is that most of your ideas and concepts will not be feasible or will not go forward, you’re on the right track. The key is to make this happen internally (before bringing something to market) and early as possible. Don’t think of an idea or a concept as a failure. It is a success if you tried something and then learned and identified that it would not work out. This is why radical innovation needs different funding and measurement than core innovation. In core innovation, you assume a consistent return on your investment in innovation. Do not make the same assumption with radical innovation.

To learn more about radical innovation vs disruptive innovation, listen to this episode of Innovation+ Talks podcast.

Innovation Management, Sopheon

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