This article was written as one of the requirements to obtain the Innovation Mentor Certification at CIMp. The CIMp program is part of iVia, The Way of InnovationTM, founded by The University of Notre Dame, Whirlpool Corporation, and Beacon Health System. Learn more at http://innovationcertification.nd.edu/
Potentially good ideas are killed too often and too early! With just a couple of powerful techniques, more ideas can have the opportunity to mature into compelling solutions, and clarity can be provided to how your organization evaluates innovation opportunities.
Most organizations want innovation and tell their employees, “Make it happen.” Yet all businesses have their boundaries. It is not an anything goes proposition. New ideas are shot down by these boundaries:
- too much capital investment
- not fast enough to market
- not enough breadth of market, and
- a host of other, sometimes unspoken boundaries
An idea is not fully mature when it is first conceived, yet it is asked to weather the reality of these boundaries from the onset. Potentially powerful ideas are killed too early, too often.
The rules of the game (boundaries, parameters, and guides) are not clearly defined upfront. There is seldom a conscious, unified view of the game’s rules. It’s like telling someone how to play baseball by saying, “You hit the ball with this bat and then run the bases,” then, when they begin running toward third base, you yell, “No! Run to first base!”
“Innovation intents” are a set of boundaries within which new ideas are intended to operate. They are not a list of idea-killers but a list of idea-builders. Although some iIntents are very specific for each organization, some are fairly common, like; customer need satisfaction, leverages a core competency, x months to market, conceivable to achieve x % margin, and requires no more than x capital investments.
It still remains that an early concept should not be expected to meet all the defined requirements. iIntents provide a means to frame the conversation, or presentation of the concept. An agreement can be made to consider the concept through a specific subset of the requirements. If the idea meets those, time will be spent working to stretch, shrink, and/or modify the concept to achieve as many of the other requirements as possible.
To use the iIntents as an idea-builder simply transform the requirement that a concept does not yet meet into a question – How might we increase the speed to market?
Two ways to use iIntents.
1| Focus the conversation to a limited subset of parameters for concurrence
2| Use the iIntents not yet met as idea-builders. How might we ….?
The benefits of iIntents include:
- ideas are not prematurely killed
- critical business parameters are used to build-up ideas not tear them down
- productivity is increased by gaining concurrence on a subset of parameters rather than spending excessive time trying to cover all possible arrows
- provides focus to where to innovate and what parameters to use to shape solutions
- failure fatigue is reduced as “Nos” are reduced
A best practice of innovation is to craft a succinct definition of innovation for the organization. An innovation definition such as “unique solution to a compelling consumer need that creates sustainable competitive advantage and superior shareholder value” is a good, overarching definition. iIntents give a deeper and broader context to the definition, which helps to operationalize it. While the innovation definition remains static over many years, iIntents may change more frequently. For example, an organization may reduce the “time to market” or “capital investment value” for a specific year.
How to Form
iIntents are best formed in a workshop format of a cross-section of key leaders using the following steps.
- Brainstorm a list of iIntent parameters. Ask, “what are the key parameters we consider when making decisions on concepts?” You are looking for the headlines, not the details. Headlines are things like, “time to develop”; not the specifics such as “less than one year development time.” Offer a list of possible parameters as thought-starters and then brainstorm a list – putting each one on a post-it note.
- Sort the list to the key elements – best if 10 or less.
- Define the details of each, such as, “Less than one year development time; or Net Margin of $500k at maturity.”
- Communicate the iIntents to the organization.
The product development team of a billion-dollar company was growing weary. They found themselves continually filling their pipeline with ideas but struggled to get enough moved along the development path for the results they were to achieve. We set an iIntent workshop with a cross-section of decision makers and members of the product development team. At the end of two hours, we had agreement on eight iIntents for the current year. The product development went to work. They set a series of short ideations for the key concepts in their pipeline, and used the iIntents as catalyst to stretch, reshape and build up the concepts. In the next Innovation Council review six concepts were selected to move forward to the next stage - three times more than the past 10 Council reviews.
Risk View, a companion to iIntents, gives additional parameters with which to shape innovation solutions and evaluate them. Establish the aspects the organization uses to assess risk and the degree (low, medium, high) of risk tolerance for each. Examples of aspects are earnings volatility, employee safety, customer safety, reputation, manufacturing backlogs, non-US manufacturing, credit ratings, or debt ratio. The aspects and their degree of tolerance are specific to each organization.
The benefits of forming your organization’s Risk View include:
- Clarity among decision makers to what is and is not a tolerable risk
- Alignment of goals and risk tolerance
- Guidance to the organization of risk parameters
How to Form
Like iIntents, Risk View is best formed in a workshop format of a cross-section of key leaders using the following steps.
- Brainstorm a list of Risk View aspects putting each one on a post-it note. Start by asking, “What are the key risk aspects we consider when we are making decisions?” Offer a list of examples like those listed earlier as thought-starters.
- Sort the aspects to determine the most important ones.
- Give each element a rating of low, medium or high risk tolerance.
- Sort the list by risk tolerance with low tolerance being first.
- Highlight the elements that have low or medium tolerance as the primary factors to consider.
- Communicate the Risk View to the organization.
A Risk View is typically a long-term perspective; does not change much over time.
While working with the senior leaders of an $80 million manufacturer who historically had served one market, but were eager to “take the company to the next level,” they stated they wanted 20% of innovation over the next five years to be from adjacent markets. When the team created their Risk View the team realized there was a conflict. The future adjacent market concepts would have a challenge in being acted upon based on their conservative Risk View. This lead them to shift more focus to core innovation and less on adjacent markets while still meeting the same revenue and profit goals.
iIntents and Risk View adds needed clarity to your innovation definition, and provides your organization with the “rules of the game.” Their inherent flexibility can respond to market and other business variability. With these techniques, you increase the organization’s rate of concept progress.
Five steps will help you block idea-killing, promote idea-building and advance your innovation process:
- Define your definition of innovation.
- Develop your iIntents.
- Develop your Risk View.
- Communicate the complete set to operationalize your aim.
- Use the iIntents and Risk View as idea-builders not idea-killers.