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Designing a Reliable, Adaptable, and Flexible Innovation Offense

Every CEO and product manager knows that new products are the lifeblood of their organization. Not just any new product will do, rather innovative new products that help customers get important jobs done meaningfully better (from the customer’s perspective).

Without innovative and breakthrough new products, a company becomes stale, and eventually lose out to more innovative competitors. They will no longer have the wares and means to compete and win.

The market doesn’t care what you have done in the past, it only cares what you can do for it today. And you need to be on top of your innovation game today. And ready to deliver value in the future ,which comes at us faster and faster each day, as we face the realities of today’s dynamic and competitive market place.

No wonder there is a huge desire and need to innovate and launch game changing new products. How else does one compete in a hyper competitive business environment?

But the reality is, playing the game of innovation entails risk. Depending what industry research you use, the innovation success rate is somewhere between 5% to 25%!

The Design of an Innovation Offense

To compete to win, requires continuous innovation and bold strategies. The only sustainable competitive advantage a company has today is its ability to learn faster than their competitors and out innovate them. To achieve sustainable competitive advantage requires the design and execution of an innovation system (offense) that delivers the desired business results we want: reliable and predictable growth.

Innovation and product development is a complex job. It involves understanding the dynamics of the market which by its nature, can be hard to uncover. We need to answer:

• Who has the problem? • Is big enough problem (pain/unfulfilled desire) people want solved? • How can we solve this problem better than current solutions? • How can we create a business model to win the customer’s mind-share and beat the competition?

In short: Are there enough potential customers who will buy our solutions at a price where we can create a thriving business?

Using the jobs-to-be-done innovation framework to answer these critical questions and build a foundation of knowledge to innovate around

The jobs-to-be-done innovation framework provides both the structure and a common language we can use to discover, understand and define viable solutions based on the important jobs people need to get done, their specific desired outcomes, and what gets in their way of achieving 100 percent satisfaction. We can innovate around this knowledge foundation.

For further reading, visit my last article “Want To Play the Game of Innovation For the Long-Haul?,” where I examine why focusing on important jobs people want done provides, a long-term focal point for innovation.

In the early stages of formulating a true innovation, uncertainty abounds

We can never have perfect information, especially as we embark on a novel idea. Even if we could have perfect information at the onset of our innovation project, the pace of change and relentless competitive pressures would quickly render it obsolete.

The way we manage risk is to use learning loops and iterative design approaches. Thus a planning loop process is a design requirement for our innovation offense.

I’ll discuss learning loops and design thinking in future articles. In the meantime, check out Tim Brown’s article “ Design Thinking” (June 2008 issue of HBR).

Brown provides a good foundation of what design thinking is and how it incorporates learning loops into the design process. He calls learning loops a systems of spaces called: Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation. All design projects will loop back through, and must ultimately pass through each space to be successful.

Building an innovation culture and grooming tomorrow’s leader is a design requirement for an innovation offense to thrive

Innovation and new product development is a team sport. Creating a system and environment that brings together a diverse group of able people, and turns them into a high functioning team is essential for execution.

The players need to know the rules of the game, their roles, the resources, a well-defined innovation playbook (and coaching and training), and the freedom to innovate and try new things.

Business strategy and innovation go hand in hand

Innovation and product development always involves choices – what we will explore, what opportunities we will invest in, develop, and launch, and what we won’t pursue. It’s driven by, and influences strategy.

Our strategic direction defines: where we will play (and won’t play), and how we will win customers and beat the competition. Ideally strategic direction is set before an innovation offense is run.

However, our direction may not be totally clear at the start of the offense. Instead we may have identified promising “possibilities” that need to be investigated and explored to choose our direction.

The same basic plays in our innovation offense are applied to gain insights and formulate a winning strategy to execute around. By testing basic assumptions in the strategy making process, we can adapt as we learn, and make choices on what direction we will take.

The Takeaway: creating an innovation offense is a design problem

It has a specific desired outcome (creating, attracting and retaining ideal customers), and a set problems, issues and challenges associated with it.  Including dealing with the dynamics of a competitive landscape, uncertainties and risk, a set of critical decisions and choices that are made to successfully move through the knowledge funnel (see figure 1), also known as the innovation playing field.

Figure 1: The Knowledge Funnel a.k.a. the innovation playing field

Your job is to design and execute an innovation offense that will reliably get you through the knowledge funnel faster and more often than the competitors. With the end game goal of delivering highly differentiate solutions that help you customers get important jobs done meaningfully better.

Play the game to win!


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