The fuzzy front end of innovation confronts you with a lot of questions. In my new book, Creating Innovative Products and Services, I try to answer the questions raised with the FORTH innovation method.

Innovation is synonymous for getting ideas. Sure! But there are great risks in starting product or service innovation with an idea for three reasons.

An idea makes you blind. Once you have your idea you will probably fall in love with it. That’s a great feeling indeed, but love makes blind, unfortunately. The psychological phenomenon of selective perception will make you see only the positive points of the idea and only listen to people who are supporting you. And in trying to realize the idea you will run in 80 percent of the cases into a hard wall, which will wake you up. Not having an alternative available to realize your personal challenge.

It’s very difficult to convince others. What happens when you tell your idea to someone else? Their first reaction starts often with a “but”. Others within your company will start criticising your idea the moment it is told to them. One important reason is that the idea is not theirs. Furthermore, companies and organizations are structured to get a grip on the current operational processes and to give account of the results produced. Should the size and complexity of the organization increase, innovation becomes more difficult. The process of innovation seems almost unnatural. A solution is getting ideas together in a team setting so the ownership of the idea is shared.

Only one and a half out of seven new product ideas are really introduced. A number of studies on new product innovation (Robert G. Cooper, 2011) showed that for every seven new-product ideas, about 4 enter development, 1.5 are launched and only 1 succeeds. These are poor odds. There is a chance of around 1 out of 5 that your idea will reach the market. So what do you do when your boss, the vice-president marketing or the innovation board stops your new product idea? Do you have any alternatives available to realize your business challenge? So never bet on one horse. That’s the message.

So, how should you start innovation and avoid these risks?

You should never start an innovation expedition unprepared. As good preparation not only increases the chances of success but it also creates priorities, direction and the will to succeed. That’s why it is essential to start with a clear and concrete innovation assignment. This forces the top management in your company, from the start, to be concrete about the market/target group for which the innovations must be developed and which criteria these new concepts must meet. This forms the guidelines for you and your innovation team for when you are underway. You can formulate the innovation assignment with the help of the following six questions:

  • Why?  (Why do we want to innovate);
  • Who?  (Who is the target group);
  • Where?  (For which distribution channels, countries, regions or continents);
  • What?  (Evolutionary or revolutionary; products, services and/or business models);
  • When? (Intended year of introduction); and
  • Which? (Which criteria the new concepts should meet).
So in discussion with your top management, you can collectively formulate which criteria the new product/service ideas must meet as well as determine the level of ambition to undertake such ideas.

This innovation assignment, which you draft in cooperation with your top management, gives direction and manages expectations. I wish you a lot of success in jump-starting your innovation with a concrete challenge instead of an idea.

About the Author

Gijs van Wulfen is an author and Founder of the FORTH innovation method.

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