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Playing the Game of Innovation Seriously

I attended the Silicon Valley Product Camp last weekend and had an opportunity to meet with product management professionals, both seasoned and aspiring. I also presented a talk on Using Jobs-To-Be-Done Innovation (J2BD)Framework to Discover and Transforming Great Ideas Into Successful New Products.

Several of the product managers I spoke with were very excited about the J2BD framework, and are looking forward to exploring how it can be applied to help them do their job better in creating successful new products for their company.

However, a common comment I heard from more than one person: “how do I get senior management to buy into this?”  Seems many of these product managers are struggling with doing their jobs to innovate and launch the “next big thing” at their companies. It’s not for the lack of trying,but rather a lack of support they need from senior management to make a true commitment to focus on innovation for the future.

It’s like they have been told by senior manager

“Yeah, we want you to come up with great new products, but you have to do that in your spare time. Right now you have to keep your focus and attention on executing what we have now, because the future is now – we will deal with the other future after we get through this….”

Can you blame senior management for this attitude?

Executive leaders are under tremendous pressure to meet the short-term expectations of the financial market. As a consequence, many executive leaders are willing to sacrifice the long-term prospects in order to achieve their immediate objectives – making their numbers.

But if history is any indicator of the future – the rules of the game will change

It’s  always hard to predict the future, because there are too many variables and “black swans” that will emerge. But one thing I can comfortably predict: the future will be played with a new set of rules, and maybe on a totally different playing field.  

Competitors will find you, a disruptor will flank you, your customer’s attitudes and preferences will change over time. You can’t assume your current business algorithm (formula) will work forever into the future. You have to plan and design for the future and be the one that obsoletes your current business algorithm before a competitor or disruptor does it to you.  But how?

Using Innovation Time Horizons to define a balanced portfolio and game plan

Senior leadership must actively design a way forward into a desirable future by defining specific innovation and NPD goals in their strategic plans. And allocate dedicated resources and create a front end innovation system that facilities the process of discovery, learning and validation.

Yes companies need to exploit their current business model. But they also need to be in a constant exploration mode to spot potential future opportunities, while developing the core capabilities and skills to define  and create new playing fields, and developing the  right players with the right “chops” to take the field and win when the game is on.

Referring to the Innovation Time Horizons in figure 1, in addition to exploiting the “here and now” incremental product improvement opportunities found in time horizon 1, a company needs to actively pursue horizon 2 innovation opportunities if it plans to be around for the long-haul.

And companies need to keep an eye on horizon 3 innovation opportunities. Allocate additional resources for their team members to play with new ideas and explore new frontiers. You don’t need big R&D budgets to explore horizon 3. There are lots of resources you can find, from technology conferences to universities and internet groups – who actively are pursuing over the horizon ideas and concepts.

Follow what these advanced thinkers are working on, and find out which horizon 3 concepts are likely to become horizon 2 opportunities.

Uncertainty Horizon Map

Figure 1: Innovation Time Horizons

Leadership needs to step up to the plate

It ultimately comes down to leadership – the leader of an organization has to make innovation a real priority and allocate the resources to make it happen, even when there are too many other pressing “jobs” his or her development resources need to get done in executing and exploiting the current business model.

That’s hard for many leaders to grasp, but when they fail to create their own future, and keep relying on their old product development and marketing playbook, they may find themselves in a red ocean (a hyper competitive market arena where price becomes the only tactic), and heading for decline and possible obsolesce. Only when leaders understand that they need to prepare their company for the future, will they get serious and make innovation happen.

Just remember the old saying: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Go make it happen!


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