It’s common for qualitative research practitioners to cast a wide net to ensure no insight is left unconsidered, and many apply the same logic to their innovation efforts, aiming for the big, blue sky with the hopes of capturing a new, game-changing idea. In practice, however, I’ve seen this approach to innovation not only produce incremental or non-actionable results, but also shelve some of the best ideas to collecting dust. To find success in innovation, it’s important to act deliberately and remain cognizant about where you want (and don’t want) to go.
My colleague Rob Darrow recently outlined that product development teams are intimately knowledgeable about both their products and their markets, and tend to inject their own present-day insights into the development of future solutions. The lens of present-day insights can distort the perception of future solutions, yet ignoring where we’ve been and where we are today is equally imprudent.
Years ago I was working with a Fortune 500 food company to build their product development road map. At the project outset I asked the client one of my favorite questions, “What should we consider taboo or off-limits as a solution?” The client’s reply was non uncommon: “Nothing is out of bounds.” So we aimed for the big, blue sky and involved a variety of consumer types in a multistep process (see Randall Hula’s recent post about the voice of the consumer in innovation) that produced several fantastic ideas.
One such concept featured a bacon product that was so easy to handle and cook that everyone in the client’s boardroom wanted to purchase it. After sharing this and many other promising concepts, the project manager shared her own excitement for the bacon product but said, “Unfortunately, we will never make it.” Though the idea had wings, it fell outside the soon-to-be updated brand identity that the client had not shared with us as we aligned for the project. The nonexistent boundary had just been crossed.
This encapsulates the folly of well-intentioned development teams attempting to stay out of the way of unbridled innovation efforts. While trying not to obstruct progress, the client inadvertently wasted resources pursuing some really great ideas that they knew they would never be interested in. Fortunately, this story ended happily, as the client walked away with dozens of stellar new product concepts that grew into successful products. But I always think about the resources spent on that one idea that could have gone toward something more actionable. After all, even one successful product can mean the difference of millions of dollars in revenue.
A similar pitfall occurs when development teams and innovation partners fail to fully review past innovation efforts. Getting where you want to go has a lot to do with knowing where you’ve been, and a thorough review of previous development initiatives serves as an incredible resource for strengthening innovation strategies moving forward. Product development successes often have shared characteristics that contributed to their success, just as failed attempts can echo warnings of rough waters to avoid. This helps ensure that previous mistakes are not duplicated and new development initiatives understand and build upon the successes of the past.
In 2010 I was working with a client with a track record of highly successful product launches. The client enjoyed massive support from their customer base, and whenever they introduced a new product or service, the client quickly ramped up revenues and acclaim. It seemed the client couldn’t miss, and after working with them, I can share the secret. The client’s motto for new product development (NPD) was simple: Aim… Aim… Aim… Aim… FIRE!
With a level of thoughtfulness and attention to detail going into NPD efforts came an understanding that it’s better to get it right than to get it quick. A significant part of this philosophy was the time our team of innovation practitioners spent immersing ourselves into our client’s NPD history. By doing so, we made sure that our team and the client’s development managers were all heading in the proper direction before taking a single step.
Now, seven years later, I am able to drive down the street to one of the client’s stores and enjoy the fruits of our shared labors—the result of innovation best practices that leveraged a thorough understanding of where the company had been and where it wanted to go.