Famed management guru Peter Drucker said: “There are two things that make money in a business: marketing and innovation. Everything else is a cost.” Whatever way you look at it, innovation is associated with ideas, and good ideas are hard to find. Even the best ones face an uncertain path to success.
Understanding innovation is important to me, as my company is undergoing a rethink on our products and the wider customer offering. We have woken up to the fact that we need to get a move on, and get to market faster. Many brands often invest months, even years, in developing a product or service only to discover they have built something no one wants.
Unfortunately, I have fallen prey to the notion of ideas and innovation being akin to staring at my navel, waiting for an apple to hit me on the head. However, there are quicker ways – copying other approaches. At school, it was called cheating but today it’s called modelling. Whatever it is called, the one I have most interest in is ‘agile’ and how this can apply to marketing and innovation.
We have kicked off a programme of work designed to encourage experimentation and ideas, and we can see where the fault lines are already showing. The first approach that I can say doesn’t work is group brainstorming. It is fun, and appears to be inclusive, but individually generated ideas are better, since they have had a lot more thought put into them.
The second fault line is around careers and reputation: versions of ‘if this idea fails, I won’t get the recognition’. Related is the fear of losing time: ‘It will take too long. Why invest part of my life in this?’ And, finally: ‘My idea has to be chosen, or I will throw my toys out of the pram.’ The third fault line concerns time and selection: how do you shortcut the endless debate and approval mechanisms, and how do you compress months of time into weeks? How do you map out a customer problem and pick an important place to focus? How can you know for sure if you are headed in the right direction?
As a result, we are doing experimentation in the methods used to create the products – hence, agile. We have narrowed our innovation programme to a series of agile ‘sprints’ inspired by the Google X Ventures Sprint Methodology. This is a framework for teams of any size to solve and test problems in five days, ensuring the team is putting its time, talents and energies on rapid prototyping and focusing on customer acceptance as part of the process.
We appear to be on the right track while committing to the risky business of building and launching products. Bringing new ideas to life – and at pace – sure is difficult. Wish us luck.