Shelli Baltman - Co-President and Founding Partner of The Idea Suite - discusses some of the critical drivers and creative strategies that she has observed link directly to innovation success.
1. Choose your innovation team thoughtfully
Any number of books have been written about successful innovation processes, approaches, tools, requirements and techniques, but in my experience the single most important determining factor when it comes to success or failure in innovation is the team. Your innovation team members not only need to have a diverse set of skills, be creative and believe in the art of the possible but also, most importantly, they need to be scrappy and entrepreneurial. Crucially, that doesn’t always mean choosing your highest potential leaders as your innovation leaders. For many companies, the best leaders are those who delegate, build consensus and are great managers of the day-to-day, making consistent, incremental improvements. Innovation leaders, by contrast, roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and actively create substantive change. They have a supportive network of fans, and are comfortable and successful at advocating for the things that matter with respect to their innovation, giving their innovation a better chance of making it into the pipeline and, ultimately, launching in the real world.
2. Clearly define project objectives and scope
It might seem counter-intuitive, since many people imagine great ideas coming exclusively from ‘out-of-the-box thinking’ without any sort of boundaries, but in my experience great creativity only happens when it is laser-focused. At the start of an innovation journey, then, make sure to ask yourself questions like: Who exactly is this innovation for? How big does it need to be? What are we willing to invest? What are the requirements for launch? And, of course, what are the unbreakable boundaries that, if crossed, would mean we would kill the project? Having this clarity makes it substantially more likely that your project team will deliver an innovation that is commercial and able to be launched.
3. Search for relevant inspiration to make creative leaps
When it comes to helping you and your innovation team have great ideas, the best place to start is to get out into the world to proactively search for inspiration. After all, great ideas most often come from creatively linking two previously separate concepts. With that in mind, search in your home market, in other geographies and in other categories that face similar challenges. Find startups that have launched interesting new products or services that your competitors might not have seen. Attend trade shows. And, most of all, simply get out of your office and into the world to find out what’s trending, and what’s on the leading edge and about to disrupt your category.
4. Iterate between feasibility, viability and desirability
Clients tend to think sequentially when it comes to innovation; first identifying and delivering against an unmet customer needs, and then engaging with both the practicality and financial viability of those new ideas. Successful innovation requires a balance of - and constant iteration between - all three of these considerations. Like any experienced human-centred design practitioners, The Idea Suite team always starts with empathy work to understand the current experience and pain points, but it’s also critical to work with a cross functional team to consistently examine whether an idea can make it to market quickly, profitably and within the project constraints. This is especially true if you’re innovating with limited resources.
5. Embrace the inevitable pivot
Virtually every innovation project I’ve worked on over the years has taken a ‘left turn’ at some point along the way. Almost inevitably, the team discovers something new and unexpected that requires a sizable shift in approach, or even the abandoning of a favourite idea. The important thing in such moments is to not be afraid to change direction, and to be willing to go back to your stakeholders and let them know about the new learning that has changed the strategy.
6. Know when and how to fight for your idea
Great innovators know when to fight to preserve a critical element of an innovation (we call it the idea’s DNA) and have the passionate conviction to influence their stakeholders. Initial concepts might not be realistic, and compromises might have to be made along the journey, but it’s vitally important to understand the critical essence of your idea so that you know where you can bend, and where you have to fight to protect a core element, to ensure you don’t lose the magic of an idea through the iteration process.