Innovation process by Dimension

In my last post I discussed four dimensions of innovation. Innovation is a very broad term, and impasses in understanding often result when people are using similar terms to describe very different things. In summary:

Innovation for Optimization - Creating and developing new ways to manufacture and deliver existing offerings to the market.

Innovation for Improvement - Improving the existing offering as it is perceived by the market.

Innovation for Invention - Developing new offerings that will deliver known benefits in ways that are currently unknown, but ultimately more relevant to the market.

Innovation for Disruption - Developing an offering that changes the competitive landscape of the market.

In distinguishing between different dimensions of innovation, we can begin to see that working to achieve the goals of each type of innovation requires very different types of problem-posing and problem-solving skills.  This also results in the need to make sure the innovation process itself is conducive to the work that needs to be done.  Let's think about how the process may differ to best enable each Dimension.

If we think about the first two Dimensions - Optimization and Improvement - the similarity is that the criteria for a successful is already defined, and the benchmarks are well established.  With Optimization, the goal is to deliver the same offering that has always been delivered.  Success can be easily measured.  With Improvement, the offering is different from the existing offering, but the existing offering is used in comparison and as a benchmark.  Since both of these Dimensions can be compared to what the company is currently doing, the existing development process is probably fine for managing the work.  Yes, issues arise when teams try to introduce levels of variation in Improvement projects, but most often, the process itself will dictate how far the variation can stray from the norm. 

In most companies, Innovation for Improvement is about as far as they can go in developing something new.  That's because that's the limit of most existing development processes.  If they can even attempt the second two Dimensions - Invention and Disruption - they struggle with them at best.  Think of the large corporations that spend lots of money on blue-sky R&D, open-ended market research, and open solicitation of new ideas that have a difficult time getting a new invention or disruption out the door.  That's because the existing development processes are not equiped to handle such a great variation on the theme.  Different processes are necessary to achieve the goals of the Invention and Disruption Dimensions.

So what does a process for Innovation for Invention and Disruption look like?  While the details may vary, there are some basic components that are necessary:

The main goal of this process is to define the criteria for a successful offering.  Just as Innovation for Optimization and Improvement start with a benchmark, it is equally necessary to know how to tell if we've done a good job.  This criteria is more fundamental than a benchmark, and is often described in terms of market motivation as expressed as an opportunity that informs all the other business disciplines. (Notice that it is not a fully formed solution. It needs to enable multiple solutions, and transcend specific technology solutions.  It should guide the development of new technology, not be a result of it.) Once this is in place, the other components follow:

It is not random.  Just because existing benchmarks are not relevant, that does not give license to just make things up.  This does not mean that everything needs to be linear, quite the contrary.  Non-linear and random are not always related.  If you've done a good job of creating the success criteria this will become obvious to the right people.  Which leads us to people:

The people need to have strong problem-posing abilities.  Too many random solutions live past their useful life because of a lack of problem-posing abilities in an organization.  In this process we must first pose the right problem, the solution to which will satisfy the success criteria.  This will then set the stage for any problem-solving activities.

The team should be multi-disciplinary.  Although people must first be selected for problem-posing abilities, they should also come from different disciplines.  This will help the team to avoid blind-spots, as well as ensure that the opportunity is translated accurately to the rest of the organization.

It must feed a development process.  Development processes are good at delivering an offering to the market.  The opportunity must be defined in such a way that the following development processes is informed, but not spoon-fed.  Therefore it is good to have some crossover people from the development team involved in the innovation process, as well as have some innovation team members move into the beginning of the development process.  Think of a baton hand-off in a relay.  It's not an abrupt hand-off at one point in time, but a gradual ramping up and down of the team members doing the transition.

These are the most important aspects, and I'm sure more points could be added.  But the important point is that this process is different from the development process: It is comprised of people with different skills, has different goals and outcomes, and should not be force-fit into an existing development process.  When people at your company talk about innovation, stop and think about defining what type of innovation is really needed, and then make sure the right process is being used to realistically enable it, and outsource it if you need to.