Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Innovation's limiting factor

Ask anyone what limits innovation and they'll have a hundred different answers - unsupportive management, uncertain goals, unrealistic resource allocation, and many, many more.  What's more, each of these, in their own way, are obstacles to innovation.  But what ultimately sets the speed and capability of your organization when it comes to innovation is your ability to experiment, prototype and introduce the learning from experimenting and prototyping back into idea development quickly.

Even if you have all the resources you need, all the support you need and all the management support you can stand, your innovation pace will still be dictated by how rapidly you can experiment and prototype new ideas, and how quickly you can react to what you've learned.  Plenty of firms have plenty of support for innovation, but are unable or simply don't have the experience to conduct short, rapid experiments with less than perfect prototypes.

Why is experimenting and prototyping so important?  No idea is perfect from its first documentation and capture.  Ideas must develop and must be exposed to real world situations in order to hone the value proposition and correct unseen flaws that often aren't exposed until the idea is presented to potential customers.  Most organizations skip this step, or conversely, take far too long to conduct the experimentation, substituting more market research for simply placing a prototype in front of the customer. 

Rapid experimentation leads to a lot of learning and new insights, but it also means that some experiments and prototypes will be crash-test dummies - that is, they were developed for learning and proved a point.  Their success is based on the fact we validated a problem or discovered, like Edison, how not to do something.  This isn't failure, it's learning and validation.  Perhaps if we framed it that way, more organizations would spend more time experimenting and prototyping. because these two functions dictate a significant amount of the speed with which your firm can innovate.

Most firms need to learn that rapid, messy, inexact experimenting, iterating to get it just right, is far more valuable than slow, careful, perfect experiments that only validate what we expected.  Innovation should solve unmet or unexpected needs and opportunities, therefore the results of the experiment should also be uncertain and unexpected.  And as fast as is possible, because ultimately this sets the drumbeat for innovation in your business.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 3:18 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article, I read it and the post and I have to say that this all gets more confusing when you are new to all this,just when I think I understand it all, someone throws in something new.
I guess I will all click in to place at some stage!
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11:11 PM  

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