Mike Brown of The Brainzooming Group spoke at today’s AMA virtual event, “Changing the Game: Innovations for Future Success”. Innovation is “a fundamental, valuable improvement relative to the status quo”, yet – despite the importance of innovation – many organizations erect barriers to it.
Mike sees 10 common roadblocks. He polled the audience about which barrier was most prevalent within audience members’ organizations:
- No direction (19% said it was the most prevalent barrier) – There’s a desire for innovation but no clear direction from management on how to innovate.
- No rocking the boat (15%) – The organization doesn’t want you to mess up the status quo: “make sure you don’t break anything!”
- No resources for innovation (13%) – The organization lacks dollars and resources to invest in something new.
- No process for innovation (13%) – There’s an inclination towards ad hoc innovation but no system to make sure you are benefiting from new ideas and productizing them.
- No measures (12%) – The business lacks the metrics or ROI for past innovations.
- No tomorrow (10%) – Many organizations, especially in the past few years, have a short-term focus that removes interest in innovation.
- No motivation (6%) – Signals from management and a culture resistant to new ideas result in no motivation for employees to innovate.
- No knack for innovation (5%) – Some companies have enjoyed a protected place in the market place and simply haven’t focused on innovation.
- No implementation success (5%) – No track record of successful innovation.
- No talent pool (1%) – An organization hasn’t tried to recruit people who are creative and innovative.
In one of the nicest uses of a poll that I’ve seen in a webinar, Mike then reprioritized his presentation content to cover the five biggest barriers to innovation, as voted on by the audience.
“Successful business strategy is about actively shaping the game you play, not just playing the game you find.” – Adam Brandenburger & Barry Nalebuff
The basic question is “What are we trying to achieve?” But that’s not enough – adding a constraint can free up creativity. Tesco wanted to become the number 1 grocery store in South Korea, without adding locations. That constraint suggested “virtual stores” – photographs on subway walls of products with QR codes, so that people could order from their mobile phones. NASA wants to replace the Space Shuttle, while using only existing technology. A fundamental question that rules out some approaches narrows the scope while spurring creativity.
No Rocking the Boat
“Every story starts with a problem.” – Jon Favreau
Some companies are afraid of upsetting the status quo. When working with such companies, Mike find two lines of questioning that help focus the discussion.
- Cash or crash? If your organization is widely successful in 36 months, how did it get there? If your organization is out of business in 36 months, what happened?
- Who competes with you for the benefits and value you create? Who has the skills but isn’t in the market today? Certainly, 10 years ago Blockbuster, Borders, CBS, Nokia, Sony and Tower Records wouldn’t have identified Apple as a competitive threat.
“There’s no quote for ‘No Resources’ because we didn’t have any resources to find one!” – Mike Brown, comedian
One way to address the lack of resources is to free up resources by diverting them from tasks that your company should no longer be doing. Of course, getting people to admit they are spending time and money on tasks they shouldn’t be doing is hard. To arrive at this more tangentially, ask:
- What are we doing that creates little or no value for our external or internal customers?
- What is close to adding value? (The fundamentals are there but the resources or attention aren’t.)
- What are we doing that is creating incredible value?
“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” – Linus Pauling
Many criticize the value of brainstorming. A common criticism is that it is a low yield process and the majority of ideas never see the light of day. In Brainzooming’s work, they see that 8% to 15% of the ideas generated in ideation sessions have near-term value. While this sounds like an indictment, when you apply those percentages to fewer ideas, you’ll see that 5 ideas barely gets you 1 idea with value, while 100 ideas will get you 15. Addressing idea and innovation procedurally is key to success.
“Be so good that they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin
Finally, make sure your metrics menu include both traditional quantitative measures (# of ideas, % sales, ROI) as well as qualitative measures (buzz, success stories, learnings).
Want to learn more? Mike will walk you through all 10 of the NOs to innovation in his free ebook.
We're counting down the Top 10 posts of 2011 on "Innovation Evolved". Originally published July 11, here's #3 on the countdown.
As someone who is passionate about newer approaches to marketing, I was fascinated by The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. It was most impactful in communicating that: in order to create great ideas, you first need to be able to generate a lot of ideas.
The Medici Effect talks about the creation of great ideas from the “intersection” of traditional ideas that people don’t initially think belong together. In the book, Johansson gives specific examples across categories (i.e. new products, services, companies, foods, etc.) through extensive research and then encourages people to find other intersections that can develop into the next big thing. This is crucial in industries such as pharmaceuticals, where growth has slowed dramatically since the early part of the century.
So how exactly are intersections relevant in life sciences? Intersections can provide new opportunities during a period of slowed growth. Datamonitor reports that there will be huge drop in pharmaceutical sales growth from 7.1% between 2003 and 2009 to just 1.3% in 2015. This is due in part to patent expirations but also more stringent rules and tighter regulations around marketing and drug development. Having worked in the pharmaceutical industry myself, I’ve seen how linear the industry can be in its thinking around marketing and innovation. However, now that the healthcare landscape has changed, the pharmaceutical industry must approach the way it markets and develop drugs differently. Intersections will help foster newer ideas whether it’s in the marketing or R&D process.
Johansson talks about Vertex Pharmaceuticals generating thousands of molecular combinations to ultimately find a few that will provide a breakthrough drug. The strategy seems to be working, as Vertex has developed and commercialized several products including - most recently – a new hepatitis C drug called Incivek.
So how do we get to these breakthrough ideas? Johansson brings in information from the book Cracking Creativity and says: to start, shake your mind from preconceived notions in three steps.
- Think about a situation, product, or concept and think about the assumptions associated with that situation
- Next, write down those assumptions; then reverse them.
- Finally, think about how to make those reversals are meaningful.
There are some examples given in the book, but I thought I would give it a try:
Assumption: Pharmaceutical companies research, develop and market drugs
Reversal: Pharmaceutical companies do not research, develop and market drugs
A meaningful business: Pharmaceutical companies take current in-market drugs and integrate them in lifestyle health programs. They find ways to educate the public by providing live educational seminars on healthy lifestyles, giving guidance to patients on the consequences of drug non-compliance, and educating the public on how healthier life styles can lead to lower overall costs (fewer hospitalizations, lower prescription costs).
Patients/Employers pay a membership fee to attend these seminars and are given discounts/rewards on their health premiums if they adhere to their medication and live healthier lifestyles (measured by BMI, cholesterol, etc.).
How did I do?
The Medici Effect is an eye-opening book that helps us understand: in order to come up with great ideas that can lead to new products and services, we need to be thinking out of the box. Often maps and/or frameworks can provide directional guidance; however they can often restrict the thinking for your next novel idea. Ultimately the question is: are you willing to think differently? If you are, you are on your way to find the next intersection, which could be the next big thing.
So how will you generate, vet, and develop ideas to get to your next product breakthrough?
--Sasanka is a Director of Client Services for Affinnova's Life Sciences clients
Social media, if used correctly, provides a unique way to peer under the surface of consumers. Passively watching blogs or brand mentions for ideas will rarely pay off, but engaging with a diverse group of your customers in a comfortable setting such as Facebook can provide a powerful and efficient tool for ideation. Combining elements of ethnography and co-creation, a cleverly designed study can help uncover deeper insights and develop solutions that will truly resonate with your target market.
Most companies are still in the experimental mode when it comes to ideation and social media, but those that have found success have learnt the importance of diversity, focus, engagement and tools.
- Diversity: Whether you want to research a large or small group, the importance is having some diversity. The varied experiences and perspectives will help broaden the ideas as well as enable participants to feed off each other’s suggestions. Divergent thinking, a key goal of ideation, is facilitated by conducting research with a diverse crowd.
- Focus: Ask specific questions or probe about problems. While you ultimately want to get behind those answers to discover underlying needs or desires (and the direction these answers may take you can vary), it is important to provide guidance and keep the conversation on track.
- Engagement: You will get more and better idea development when everyone is feeding off the conversation, when it expands from between you and some targeted users to the larger community as well.
- Tools: The right tool is out there for you. Interesting tools come from better-known companies such as Spigit, Innocentive, and Research Now, as well as from startups like MindSwarms. Each caters to a unique need, so find the one that best suits your situation. Consider the project and ideal solution, then find the tool that matches, rather than starting with a tool and trying to adapt the project to fit. With numerous suppliers, and customizations available from most tool vendors, you do not need to fit your round peg into the provided square hole.
Of course, social media doesn’t fit every ideation opportunity. Social media is less controlled, and the more open communications that social media promotes makes it less appropriate for covert projects. As well, some consumers are less in tune with technological advances or brand strategies that define corporate objectives.
The best innovations start with insights into the deeper issues, not the symptoms. Reading between the lines and probing into the root causes of needs and desires will uncover the true insights that lead to break-through innovation. While not specific to social media, I love the example of Bank of America, searching for ways to differentiate as well as get its customers to get more out of their savings accounts and increase deposits. By looking beyond what consumers had to say about the extra fees, low interest rates, etc. innovators were able to understand that consumers don’t dislike saving (in fact most will readily admit they need to save more), but that saving money will often lose out to impulse spending. Thus, the solution should be about making it easy, not just lowering fees. The result was an automatic trigger that transferred change from debit card transactions into your savings account. Dealing with the underlying cause created a truly differentiated solution that BofA could build on.
Social media research can provide this level of insight in amazing detail, with a stray tweet about your brand leading you to the commenter’s blog posts and even video posts describing the situation in detail.
Kevin Hause is a vice president of client services at Affinnova, and has previously worked for NBC, IDC and Scientific American.
Too many organizations are forgoing qualitative research for all but the biggest projects, when they should be looking for online substitutes when they can’t cost-justify focus groups.
Face it - one of the mainstay tools for innovation will always be the focus group. It’s a great way to engage with selected customers and delve into key topics, ideas or themes in a meaningful way. With a good moderator to keep the conversation on track, focus groups generate knowledge, ideas and insights.
However, focus groups are expensive, time-consuming and occasionally unproductive. They can take forever to organize, and the logistics of a multi-city tour distract from the real work at hand. This has made it challenging to utilize groups for anything but the largest projects. Smaller, point projects – which might actually gain the most from some outside perspective – don’t qualify.
Online qualitative research offers an interesting solution to this. Using video focus groups, bulletin-board focus groups (BBFGs) and other tools, one can quickly tap into customers for feedback, reality checks or impromptu co-creation sessions. Tools like Itracks, MindSwarms and others have made it incredibly cheap and easy to find targeted customers and get perspectives and feedback immediately.
The social aspect of these tools has key advantages. First, most providers actively encourage social engagement on numerous fronts, so that it becomes easier to find and vet consumers to ensure you engage with the right ones. Second, many provide tools for ongoing discussion, feedback loops and interpersonal communication among group members. This last aspect can be very important to ideation, as it allows consumers to feed off each others’ ideas.
In fact, online qualitative sessions are excellent for early stage ideation, because they enable one to have answers within hours, and even go back to the same or other consumers for further feedback on new insights or directions gained during the process.
Of course, shifting to online qualitative research comes with its own drawbacks, and the limitations must be kept in mind. There is less control over the discussion environment, demo products can’t be passed around, and many of these tools are asynchronous.
But if one thinks of virtual groups as another tool in the toolbox, then used judiciously they can provide significant value in the ideation process, allowing quick interaction with key consumers early and often. Every innovation project, no matter how small, can benefit from integrating qualitative research – and online qual now makes this feasible for small projects.
Kevin Hause is a vice president of client services at Affinnova, and has previously worked for NBC, IDC and Scientific American.