In many cases it is our starting point that is a major weakness. Have we got our Innovation Strategy right? At what point do we commit energy and resources to bringing a new idea to market? Often the test is whether the new idea has potential for creating value for the organisation. Unless you have started a business from scratch, providing resources for your new idea may remove resources (people, money, materials) from other areas of your business. The question you must ask is not just ‘will it work?’ but ‘can we get it to work without any damage being done to our current business?’. Our Innovation Strategy is thus firmly tied to our long term objectives. Have you identified your innovation weak points?
Do you go with all of your new ideas if they look like they will work? How do you select which ones to work with? Selecting idea needs to be ruthless carried out. Ask yourself the following:
- Does it work?
- Is this aligned with our objectives and company values?
- Can this be scaled up or transferred to a different cultural setting?
- Does this help or hinder our other activities
In short our inventors must develop some business capabilities!
New ideas are complex. They are often generated to solve a problem but to get an idea to market may provide further challenges. A new drug may cure a disease but it may have side effects, be expensive or difficult to package or have a short shelf life. To create value you need to show how your new idea will create value for your customer perhaps through time, cost or efficiency savings. You cannot simply say, ‘Here is the new wonder drug’ and expect hospitals to be placing orders immediately.
How high do you set the bar when testing your ideas? Do you use objective or subjective tests? It is better to have a mixture of both and ensure that all of the criteria that you identify are met. Another way of testing is to use existing customers. They are often flattered when you think they are worthy of trialling your very latest innovation! But, not everyone does this!
A huge potential problem area is the window in time where your idea or prototype is turned into reality. Your development team throw the idea over the wall into production and think ‘job done’. Until you are selling gizmos buy the lorry load, everybody should still be contributing although the balance will change. You will need more human resources than you thought and also more cash. There is also a danger of stagnation as your new product or service falls into the gap between development and production. A highly motivated and charismatic leader is needed to ensure to see things through.
Do you have everything you need to get your new idea into the market? Have you considered external partners, especially if this might improve your success rate? Even if you have, how ready are you in terms of a) people b) protecting intellectual property? Sometimes the ‘missing ingredient’ needs to come from elsewhere.
Even when you have considered all of the above, have you spent time looking at the culture of innovation within our organisation? If innovation is a separate entity rather than embedded completely within the business, how do you cope with this? Do employees rotate through the innovation function and if not does this create tension? How is the learning from the development process captured and then disseminated? Just ask yourself, does the way we do things round here help our hinder our innovation efforts? You will be surprised at the impact that small changes can have.