Is Your Creativity Disciplined? Activities & Approaches To Formalize For More Effective Innovation

Posted by Jon Hall on Feb 17, 2014

114265176Coming up with winning concepts that turn into effective new product launches takes more than a creative approach and a willingness to fail. Companies that outperform their peers do it because those approaches are formalized and hardwired into institutionalized processes that provide foundation for everything from ideation and concept development through operations and launch. So if your organization isn’t leading the pack in your industry or key categories, here are some mandates you can institute to begin improving today. 

Apply management principles to the innovation process.

Innovation is becoming more and more a process-centric operation – one that benefits from structure. Management rigor provided by business process management (BPM), a systematic approach to making an organization's workflow more effective, can make your innovation process becomes more agile and efficient. In its “Enabling Innovation Through Business Process Management,” Accenture, the global management consulting giant, reports that examples from the telecommunications industry show that BPM applied to product development initiatives can accelerate product launches by over 70%. 

In fact, both business model innovation (new value propositions, business processes, targets and markets) and technology innovation can benefit from discipline around how innovation “operates” within your organization. 

Formalize a process to look for and integrate outside input.

Often, the truly breakthrough ideas come about by integrating ideas from across domains. The solution for human DNA structure eluded Linus Pauling, the most talented chemist of the day, because he came at the problem from a single perspective. It wasn’t until James Watson and Francis Crick brought together insights from chemistry, biology and x-ray crystallography that the solution was found.

Many companies are creating opportunities for open innovation in order to take advantage of diverse resources. P&G’s “Connect + Develop” platform allows the company to benefit from expertise in a variety of domains across the world. Their position on intelligence sharing is impressive: “We share our R&D, consumer understanding, marketing expertise, and brand equity with our partners, bringing great innovations to market and into the lives of consumers faster. P&G's open innovation strategy has enabled us to establish more than 2,000 successful agreements with innovation partners around the world. Together, we can do more than either of us could do alone.”

Other platforms, like InnoCentive, an open innovation company that accepts by commission research and development problems in a broad range of domains such as engineering, computer science and math, uses expertise of outsiders to solve problems that organizations are stuck on.

Similarly, SpencerHall’s Transforum® tool leverages the insights and expertise of a hand-selected Brain Trust, professionals from a wide variety of industries, for specific assignments; it’s not unheard of for us to engage more than 30 Brain Trust members on a single project. Each contributes diverse ideas and perspectives to the project – and sees obstacles and opportunities in different places. 

Focus your team on opportunities, not problems.

Henry Ford said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me “a faster horse.” Apple founder Steve Jobs’ approach to business was much the same: it wasn’t to develop products that solved problems, it was to identify opportunities and position his organization to seize them. He looked at reinventing and creating new markets, products, customers and services. Both the iPhone and iPad were products that created futures where none existed before.  

But recognize that innovation doesn't have to be about "the next big thing."

Some of the most profitable innovations are enhancements or extensions of everyday products your customers are already familiar with. Two examples, again from Apple, are innovation within a product line, like adding the functionality of Siri and fingerprint identity sensors to its iPhones.

When looking at how to allocate innovations resources, Tim Kastelle, PhD, Senior Lecturer of innovation strategy at the University of Queensland School of Business and Managing Editor of the journal Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, recommends a “three horizons” model, which looks at innovation efforts as a sort of portfolio. In his model, 70% of resources should go into your first horizon: improvements, extensions, variants and cost-reduction initiatives in existing markets you currently serve. 20% should be in the second horizon where you’re creating adjacent growth in next-generation products, in existing markets you don’t serve. The final 10%? Exploration into new markets and new technologies.

For those working in the first horizon, SpencerHall sometimes employs our Re/Discovery® tool, a consulting partnership with clients that helps identify new product ideas by taking a fresh look at the company’s existing, under-leveraged technologies and re-purposing those capabilities. Some of the best new product concepts have used existing technology to create a platform to launch new products off of, or resulted from the combining of technologies with other internal capabilities.

Anyone who’s been involved in innovation and product development over the past 20 years (as we have!) knows that the methods, tools, thought processes and pace of innovation have all changed dramatically. It can be discouraging to think that many of the companies that were celebrated 20 years ago for their creative brilliance are now also-rans or gone. But if there’s a silver lining to grab on to, it’s that there’s probably never been as many ways to jumpstart capabilities and reinvigorate corporate cultures through access to leading edge thought leaders and the tools of their craft. Today the only barrier is deciding your corporation needs to improve, and committing to the steps to get that process underway.

Download our free case study to find out more about how SpencerHall's Disciplined Creativity® approach leads to innovative solutions.

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Topics: innovation, culture of innovation, disciplined creativity