Friday, November 29, 2013

Delivering Breakthrough Innovation - Where to Start? Ans: Vision of Ideal World

In this and subsequent blogpost, several starting points of an Innovation will be discussed. These starting points are not related to interesting stories that you might have heard which include a napkin, a coffee table or a beer. Instead they are more tangible which would tell a professional where and how to start innovating. In any large organisation, the success of Innovation program is measured by innovations delivered and impact on triple bottom line. All the hot air and talk surrounding innovation is inconsequential if it doesn’t translate into concrete deliverables.

For the professionals tasked with delivering breakthrough innovation, following is a good starting point:

The Vision of ideal world
With some knowledge of the overall business ecosystem in which the company operates in, it’s possible to paint a picture of an ideal world. Some examples could be ‘Door-to-Door mobility’ for a automotive company, ‘Non-intrusive security’ for a security systems company, 'Green Buildings' etc.

A vision too broad will not help. It should deal with a manageable part of business like inbound supply chain, a specific area of customer concern, a green product/service etc.

Next step is to validate the vision with experts. I would emphasize the word ‘experts’. The objective assessment of experts helps to identify weakness in the vision and forces one to improve it and plug the gaps.

Also, the experts feedback mark the beginning of the journey from ‘Vision to Idea’. As one explores the vision further with experts, one would come to know that:
  •        Some parts of the vision have already been implemented.
  •        Some parts of the vision are already being looked into.
  •        Some parts of the vision are too far from the business perimeter of a company.

The above parts, though attractive, may have to be dropped. As a result, the unique actionable part of the vision which is relevant to a company would constitute the innovative idea. This innovative idea, apart from drawing on a bigger vision, would also constitute a business case and indicators of potential impact on business. This should get the first buy-in to move forward.

One would be tempted to assume that the next step would be to detail a business and operating plan. However, for a breakthrough innovation, there is uncertainty and hardly any precedence to compare with. Market research and pricing becomes difficult in such cases. An alternate approach is needed for dealing with breakthrough innovative ideas with high uncertainty levels. This alternate approach is prototyping. Quick and low-cost prototypes which are able to demonstrate and communicate the benefits are much more powerful than huge Word and Excel documents.

Building a prototypes generates valuable insights: 
  • Costing: While building a prototype, one gets to know how much a full blown solution may cost.  
  • Technological risks: Any technology risks are made visible early in product development.
  • Customer feedback: Customer feedback is more objective and elaborate on a prototype rather than a paper concept.
  • Market potential: With demonstration of prototypes to customers and experts, one could gauge the benefits accrued and hence size the market.
  • Risk sharing launch customer: A forward-looking customer may agree to try out the proposed product/service and share the risk in its development.
The ‘How’ (how the idea will be implemented) and ‘Why’ (a detailed business case backed with research) becomes evident with a prototype. With a green signal from the management, the next stage is to implement and deliver.

To conclude, a good starting point of breakthrough innovation is to paint a vision. Also, for breakthrough ideas, prototyping is key to resolve various uncertainties. 
On the soft side, perseverance is key. Some expert feedback can be discouraging, but key is to persevere and find the Gold.  

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