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What's Your Innovation Process Look Like?

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Dec 22, 2014

Are you up for a fun little exercise this morning?   Not with your body, with your brain!

The exercise is intended to make a point. 

Take a look at the picture on the right.  Innovation Window Leadership Team Exercise  resized 600It’s called an Innovation Window Leadership Exercise Worksheet.

You’ve probably seen something like this before.  Like every time you open an Excel Spreadsheet.

Here’s what I’d like you to do.  Take 5 minutes and draw your company’s Innovation Process as you understand it today.

We recommend you do this with your leadership team as an individual exercise.   Do the very best you can based on your current understanding of your company’s innovation process. Feel free to draw images, icons, flow charts, pictures, words…whatever you like – BUT be as accurate as possible before you share it with teammates or possibly someone in your office.

You can download the Innovation Window Exercise Worksheet, or simply use an Excel Spreadsheet page to do the same thing.

Insert musical passage of time here…….

Okay five minutes is up.  How did you do?

With my customer in California it was an amusing exercise.  The CEO came up with the most entertaining worksheet – simply the letters, “Come on in!”

Of course the point of all this is that most businesses have no innovation process at all.  Ideas pop up anywhere and everywhere and few if any ever get acted upon, unless someone takes the initiative to persistently work on it and elevate it frequently to those in the company that can influence and eventually make a decision to try something.

Dave Power is a thought leader whose book “The Curve Ahead” Dave Power   The Curve Ahead resized 600discusses why growth companies stop growing and how to prevent your company from falling into the trap of flattening growth strategically through time. The key is to proactively create an internal Innovation discipline in your company. There are a handful of key components of an Innovation Discipline within a company’s culture and operations.

Here are two key principles:

  • The Innovation Window
  • The Core Innovation Process

Power found in his research companies tend fixate on their initial growth product sets and have unrealistic expectations that their original product sets – thought dynamic and strong revenue drivers – will continue to drive revenue beyond what experience and research dictates.

This was particularly true for my California customer.  Despite having developed a very innovative process for concrete moisture testing, they have not furthered that innovation any more than making additional tweaks on its delivery system.  One of the reasons I brought this exercise to them for our Annual Planning and Strategy Meeting was due to their interest in developing their BHAG.

Greg, the Operations Manager attended California State University-Chico earning a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Concrete Industry Management. In just four years he’s moved from technical writer, to Service Delivery Manager to director of Operations and soon may be in line to become IFTI’s general sales manager.   He believes IFTI’s BHAG should go beyond just the scope of their present efforts of concrete moisture testing, sensing their core competencies lend themselves to a lot of other opportunities in the construction business.  Developing their Core Competencies was another important exercise we worked on, intending to expand the potential for IFTI’s BHAG.  

Powers highlighted a critical season in time wherein strategic thinking companies need to invest in innovation in order to create the next step of strong revenue driving products to propel the company toward their next set of 3 to 5-year goals and BHAG.

Proper planning and execution in the Innovation Window will ensure smooth, steep growth into the future. Just think of Apple as an example of this.  They continuously innovate “within their window” with successful products such as the MacBook Pro, the iPhone, iTunes, the iPad

Four Key Components Innovation Process   resized 600The Innovation Process and its four key components or steps are shown on the left.

  1. LISTEN: Companies must learn the discipline of listening to their Core Customers on an ongoing and regular basis; to “Listen” means to ask some very important questions about the customer’s pains, challenges and roadblocks. Documentation of the ongoing outcomes from listening and then seeking trends for opportunities is a key discipline to master in a company.  IFTI is particularly good at this.  In the past year they developed a great feedback loop with their customers based on David Mosby and Michael Weissman book The Paradox of Excellence, How Great Performance Can Kill Your Business. They recently completed another round of meetings with their customers, listening to their ideas and reinforcing the value IFTI provides.
  2. DESIGN: Once sufficient data and direction is discerned, a company will then “Design” a potential solution – referred to as a Minimum Viable Offer (an offer or solution that will address a customer’s pain, but with the minimum attributes to be successful in the marketplace). IFTI plans to explore the results of their feedback from their Paradox of Excellence Meetings to discover what nuggets maybe offered here from clients.  One idea already is to offer an express service for results.
  3. EXPERIMENT: Next, the Minimum Viable Offer (MVO) is taken to market (real clients) and tested to see if it is market ready (usually not) and then feedback gathered from the market entry and the product undergoes a “Pivot” event (not shown on in the Innovation Process, but still very important). The Pivot simply means updating or adapting the MVO based on market feedback to make it market ready. IFTI will move in this direction as quickly as they complete the design process.
  4. IMPLEMENT: Lastly, the final step is to “Implement” or introduce the new product/service offering into the full market to scale and sell it. Again once the experimental portion is done, IFTI will implement their innovation with their customers.

These four steps, Listen, Design, Experiment and Implement are the four critical steps to learn and master in an innovative culture.

Here’s a great example of how do you revitalize or innovate in an old line/old world business.

Zoots lets you drop off and pick up your dry cleaning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Zoots has innovated with a drop-off box and pick-up kiosk (that looks like an ATM). You drop off your dirty clothes that need dry cleaning in a Zoots drop-off box and then return in a few days and you simply identify yourself with your credit card. An automated system pulls your laundry off the rack, unlocks the access door, and presents you your laundry.  Zoots 24 hr Drop off resized 600A business person in route to the airport at 5 a.m. can grab his or her suit and shirts without worrying when the store will open.  I was surprised when I visited their website to see this not more prominently advertised.  However they are advertising their new mobile apps.

How do you think they came up with this innovative idea? Could it have been from listening to many customers’ pains and challenges?

Recommended reading on the Innovation Process for your company is Dave Powers The Curve Ahead.  To begin listening to your customers better and how you may be over delivering and get paid less than what you’re worth read The Paradox of Excellence.

This is the first Christmas I’ll be without anyone from my original family.  Reflections on my family Christmas and gratitude will be the topic of my next blog scheduled for Wednesday. 

Topics: Customer Feedback, Business Growth, strategy, Strategic Learning Cycle, Innovation Process

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The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

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