Monday, December 7, 2009

How do I start innovating?

Most entrepreneurs or senior managers I have spoken to all agree that innovation is both required and worth the effort but a common question is – How do we start or more importantly how do we identify the areas to focus on?

They have had many experiences in the past where they have sponsored many “innovation” project but they have nothing to show for it. So they are confused and have decided to stay away from it.

Fair point. So thought I will discuss more about this. At the outset, let me confess that there is no magic formula for this. Innovation by definition means that we are going to encounter failure. However the areas to innovate on should be defined pretty clearly and there is no scope for failure on those.

The worst thing that you can do is to initiate a innovation project based on a few journal articles you read or based on generic analysts reports. These will need further refining and unless you define the path properly, you are never going to achieve success with your innovation agenda.

The next best thing is to do it based on what your team believes. They do have a good knowledge of the product space but the risk is that they could be biased based on the existing product offering.

The best way to do this is to listen to your customers and derive the innovation requirements from them. Only one word of caution here – Don’t expect solutions from your customers but listen carefully to the requirements and their current pain areas.

Once you have defined the areas where you want to focus your innovation efforts on, next make a plan on the status quo in that area and identify the main challenges – even at this stage – stay away from getting into complete solutioning mode – the aim is just to scratch the surface and identify areas to delve deeper into.

Finally identify different areas where you need to formulate task groups or teams to dig deeper and look for solutions.

During solutioning mode, please ensure that you get your best people to look at it. The more diverse the interests of the people who look at it, the better the chances of getting creative ideas, which has been proven to increase the success ratio. Ideally (unless you have confidentiality and proprietary reasons), try to get some outside solutions also either through partners, customers or even the outside world in general. Outside people bring in a freshness and unbiased thinking which is difficult to substitute internally. Obviously you need to define some incentives which makes this interesting and appealing to outside folks.

That is it!!! When done systematically, you should get responses unless you have not defined your problem statement clearly enough. Persevere based on feedback and you will get the responses that you expect.

Remember that it is equally important to have a good way of judging solutions when they start to come in. If you are exposing this to the outside world, you can get overwhelmed with solutions. So ensure that you define a process for rating the solutions and taking this forward appropriately.

Hope this helps companies get started with their innovation efforts. Remember the name of the game is perseverance and patience. Success will come but only to those who persevere (like most things in life!!!)

Enjoy the journey!!!

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