In principle, any innovation starts with a new idea, but by the same token, not every new idea becomes an innovation. (EXPERIENCE 64 focused on the difference between an idea and an innovation). We often talk about a “brainwave”, but we hide the fact that a creative idea or invention does not arise out of the blue. Even startups that have unconventional business ideas in their DNA must first look at the market need as a yet uncultivated sector. It is necessary to find a niche in which they can launch their product or service. Many existing companies nowadays focus on innovation management to find new ideas, to study them for feasibility and to commercialise them. In this age of digitalisation, however, innovation lies mainly in new technological features. Or it is being enabled by them. Therefore, for these companies, it can be helpful to engage an external consultant for the next innovation drive. The consultant will systematically support the creative process of developing ideas and bring methodical competences to smoothen the innovation journey – from the needs analysis to implementation. This is especially true if he combines experience from different industries and therefore can proactively apply best practices from one area to another.Creative thinking and acting goes according to strategically motivated and structured patterns. It’s no coincidence that most innovations in hindsight appear simple, because when searching for new solutions, a problem is broken down into its constituent parts to reduce complexity. If you’re looking for surprising insights out of nowhere, at the start you never know where this search will lead. If you leave the well-trodden paths, traditional approaches like waterfall project management can get problematic. Early commitment and planning of resources, time, attention and expectations make it difficult to react to new findings. The further advanced the process, the more restrictive the obligations made at the start. Agile approaches to planning are more effective. In explorative projects, the work is performed in smaller steps. Knowledge builds up iteratively and each step is followed by a decision-finding procedure. The knowledge is not planned in advance, but arises from a team’s research and experimentation. Each iteration creates a kind of springboard from which the team can attain unknown heights.
The key to a successful innovation is that it is seen as a complete process which does not end after generating the actual idea – also known as “Ideation”. Meanwhile, there is a whole guild of corporate consultants nowadays whose sole purpose is to support their customers in their creative process of searching for a new business idea. Yet a creative concept has not become a realised idea which can be monetised. Companies also rarely lack innovative ideas as they take them from their knowledge of customers and markets. The actual challenge is channeling the explosions of ideas, sorting them out and evaluating them – and finally deciding which ideas have the greatest customer benefit and expected commercial success, and therefore should be elaborated and implemented. In practice, it often only becomes evident in the validation phase, using a prototype or in a market acceptance test, whether and how an innovative idea can be realised as an innovation which generates added value. It is only during implementation that it becomes clear whether the original idea can generate business benefits or should fail fast. (FIG. 1)
A consultant who looks at the innovation process as a whole will step in with an innovation fitness check. He will examine where the company stands on the innovation development journey: is the main concern to generate ideas or to help the best idea to break through? Should the company be enabled to create innovation by itself (Corporate Innovation) or can ideas from the outside enhance it and make it more competitive (Open Innovation)? Different methods or formats are considered accordingly. An idea competition can act as the starting point for creative input, both internally and externally. Alongside classic idea management, the continuous improvement process, team challenges or the creation of special zones, creative freetime and a specific company innovation culture can drive innovation. If you want to bring ideas into the company from outside, it is worthwhile investing in startups or cooperating with them. Other approaches, like contributing to innovation challenges or developing internal platforms or communities which communicate their needs to the company or make suggestions for improvement, are explicitly called for.
Whichever method is chosen by a company to create or gather ideas, it is crucial to ask the following questions: can a business case be developed for the idea? Does it fulfil a latent need of the customer? How can it be – measurably – ensured that the market also accepts the innovation? What is needed for actual implementation? The innovation process as a whole is only completed if the decision is finally taken to realise a project within a specified time frame and budget, and also to include it in the company portfolio after successful market testing.
Depending on the maturity of a company with regard to innovation management, the company can be supported throughout the process by a consultant or call on support for individual formats. It is worth engaging a consultant who can do both and who can therefore customise different models. It is even more useful if the consultant not only brings methodical expertise but also technological expertise to the table, and furthermore technological expertise that covers business analysis and customer insights, optimised user experience design and rapid prototyping, right through to agile software development in a cost and time-optimised construct. (FIG. 2)
In such cases, a company can obtain innovation services, as in the “Innovation as a Service” model. For example, if a method tool is needed for the screening & scouting of a complementary startup idea, this can be covered by the consultant as well as an end-to-end structured innovation management. As part of basic service, it would be possible, for example, to initiate the innovation process, to stop the process whilst in progress and to work towards measurable results by holding a quarterly workshop. On an expert level, complete outsourcing of innovation management can cover the whole spectrum up to implementation. The presence of special forms of innovation such as a “Boost Camp” in a portfolio can indicate a consultant who is always interested in the competitiveness of his customer: this format is all about helping the company to gain a market edge whilst optimising time, costs and risk. Ideas are generated within just a week, with a prototype developed, evaluated and validated, and a management pitch prepared for a final decision. Ideally, the go-ahead to pursue an idea is given at the end of the working week. One week with guaranteed innovation output can do more through a methodically structured, customer- and market-orientated process based on measurable success that would otherwise only be possible in half a year.
“A systematic method for taking innovation decisions lays the foundation of sustainable business development and guarantees results which can be quickly measured for the development of new business sectors.”
In this regard, innovation not only remains a buzzword, but is aimed at sustaining company success. The innovation process can be speeded up and so a decisive edge on the competition is gained.
The expertise of the consultant can be decisive in another key aspect: The change involved can fuel anxiety, particularly in view of the disruption caused by digital transformation. Developments can be anticipated and the necessary cultural or organisational changes set in motion by acting methodically and strategically. A consultant who not only generates ideas and develops software but also implements them and supports their market launch has a good perspective of the overall context and can manage it accordingly.
Example 1: HOLISTIC SUPPORT OF THE COMPANY INNOVATION PROCESS
A service company has an existing innovation management process, which comes up with the idea of developing an app for tracking customer behaviour. A pilot project should determine to which extent such tracking by smartphone is accepted by the public, and how behaviour patterns are structured. Up to this point, market research in the company has been conducted along conventional lines, which produced too few specific findings from too much effort. The company turned to us as a strategic partner, combining experience, methodical expertise and industry knowledge with a holistic view of innovation management and wide technological expertise. An external viewpoint was sought on purpose so that the ideal solution could be found, evaluated and implemented for the customer, free from internal barriers or preferences.
“The ideal partner for innovation management creates the necessary structures with the customer to effectively generate innovation and to unleash the creativity of the workforce.”
The company was coached and supported throughout the entire process. Various potential models were evaluated together with the customer: a whole spectrum of options from in-house development and white labelling of a startup were considered, depending on how much influence the company wanted to have on the design and implementation of the potential solution. A call for a start-up pitch session was drawn up and workshops scheduled to develop use cases. Based on prototyping, it was decided to buy a technical solution from outside the company rather than go for in-house development. Our role as a consultant did not end, however, in this phase. We also took on preparation of the management pitch and advised the customer on how the market launch should be best conducted. Sufficient ideas for the market test were developed, drafted and evaluated by picking up on the needs of the company. Implementation was set in motion. The customer-centred design approach was founded on a consistent focus on the end customer; every step of the innovation process was considered from this viewpoint. This assured the company that a product would be produced and scaled that would also be of real worth to its customers.
Example 2: PROVIDE METHODICAL SUPPORT FOR THE USE OF INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES
A travel agent wants to use a mobile app for its customers in order to make travel planning more interactive and convenient using innovative search and booking actions. The use of bots fits the bill as an attractive tool. Bots are intelligent computer programs which run via messenger services on smartphones and make everyday life much easier than apps. As external consultants, we are entrusted with the innovation and technological evaluation in order to fine-tune the initial draft idea and ascertain the added value that can be generated by using bots in the travel agent’s business model. Within a month, validation and feasibility analysis should be performed in the form of an “Innovation Lab”. The potential innovations are challenged in an “Ideation Workshop” and the corresponding use cases are developed. In a subsequent phase, various technologies for creating bots are tested (technology insights), pros and cons compared and the three favourites selected. Initial prototypes, including initial feedback, are prepared for the selected technologies in a prototyping workshop. The management pitch should be created from their evaluation and the market test prepared.
Example 3: DERIVE BENEFIT FOR THE CUSTOMER FROM A TECHNICAL INNOVATION
A manufacturer of building systems has developed a technical prototype for controlling its products via an app. As a strategic partner for software development, we are able to convince the manufacturer to develop this technical solution further and exploit the idea’s full potential, therefore creating the opportunity to address new customer groups. An “Innovation Review Workshop” is set up jointly, which finds that the solution is of benefit to far more target groups than originally thought. As a next step, ideas are collected for additional features using “Ideation”, and these ideas enhance the value of the solution for different customer segments. The specification, i.e., the paper prototype, is then developed, as the name says, initially on paper to obtain feedback as quickly as possible from various internal and external stakeholders. This forms the basis of a clickable prototype, which is tested by the specified end users. After these two validation cycles, an innovative product can be successfully brought to market.