How To Meaningfully Accelerate Innovation

Sunday, 27 April 2014 17:04
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I've been at this external innovation thing for 10 years now. I've learned a few things over this time:

First, it's tough to accurately guess what Marketing wants, because for a variety of reasons, it can be a moving target. Next, it's tough to find existing technology solutions that are precisely what is desired because the external parties that created them didn't design them for you.

If the whole point of external innovation is to accelerate development by identifying existing solutions, why can it still take so long? In part, it's because we sometimes make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends.

How To Meaningfully Accelerate Innovation

"It's simple, really. Just shorten the lag between identifying the "Need" and the "Solution".

What seems to be the problem?
Joe Jackson famously sang "You can't get what you want, 'til you know what you want." Joe makes a pretty true statement that applies to a lot of things in life. Unfortunately, what happens a lot in corporate external innovation is that R&D spends a lot of its time waiting to learn what Marketing wants (i.e. their Needs). Then, after they do so, they spend a lot of time and effort to find available external Solutions that precisely fit these Needs. These particular Solutions can often be tough to identify and obtain for a very simple reason: the folks who created them in most cases developed them for their own needs and didn't have your company in mind when they designed them. So, in many cases they won't represent a precise fit for a prescribed Need.

So, given this situation, how can companies meaningfully shorten product development cycles to take full advantage of the promise of external innovation? It's simple, really. Just shorten the lag between identifying the "Need" and the "Solution". Thank you, I'll take my check now. Oh, you mean you want a more detailed explanation than that? Well...okay.

Let's examine the most common approach to external innovation.
Step 1: Marketing defines the Need. Step 2: R&D searches for Solutions. When a specific Need is prescribed but the precise Solution and its availability is unknown, innovation can seriously lag. This is often because the Need likely wasn't informed by a knowledge of technical realities including available options.

Define Needs with knowledge of available Solution options.
What if, instead of defining Needs in isolation from knowledge of possible Solutions and treating the process as a linear sequence, Needs and opportunities were defined with knowledge of existing, possible, and available Solutions? In other words, what if Marketing and R&D collaboratively developed innovation options where the white space is limited to focus on customer Needs where technical Solutions are already known to exist, but which may not yet be leveraged in these particular product applications. In other words, you work with the best option(s) available to you that meet your Needs as best you can. Specific available technical Solution options and alternatives can be scoped in a broader technology landscaping exercise. This approach can help enable your company to define a beachhead strategy and launch lead products from which to introduce enhancements and improvements over time...and to benefit from first mover advantages in the interim.

It's not for every situation, but it can work for a lot of them.
Obviously, this approach can't be followed for all innovation opportunities, especially for those where a new technical "invention" is required. It also limits the range of certain exploratory exercises. However, for many companies and many product categories it can be done far more frequently than I suspect it is currently being done. My partners and I can help you to do it.

In Conclusion:
To meaningfully accelerate your company's innovation efforts, where possible, focus on opportunities where the lag between Need and Solution is minimal. Your company's leverage will come from being fast to market.

Since 2005, BFS Innovations has helped its Fortune 500 clients with technology scouting, new business creation and development services. Contact Michael today at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 614 937-2408 to discuss your company's needs.


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