Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Moving beyond Explore and Exploit

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges innovators face is the lack of shared conventions or definitions.  This starts with the definition of innovation, which we all agree is important but no two people agree on the definition.  Moving on from there, we have different types of innovation, different tools and outcomes, differences in focus and intent.  I honestly believe that innovation teams in corporations attempting to conduct innovation suffer, because of the host of different and often proprietary innovation methods, processes and tools.

There's little I'd like more than to create shared platforms and models, and to create holistic solutions rather than increment our way to good frameworks.  One of the challenges I'll address and attempt to solve today is the emerging dichotomy currently represented as explore and exploit.  This is, in itself, an evolution, because the vast majority of work in corporations recently could be represented by a single activity:  exploit.  But I'm going to argue that while the emergence of the explore:exploit duality if a good thing, we need to go much further.  This explore:exploit duality is emerging simply to isolate two different activities with different goals and tools.  Explore seeks to discover new ideas, using high divergent tools and methods, while Exploit seeks to maximize profits using highly convergent tools and methods.  Thus we isolate and inoculate them from each other. 

Missing the Forest for the Trees

But this is a forest and trees problem, because Explore and Exploit represent key activities, not the entirety of a end to end innovation or idea process.  Yes, they are important activities, but they overlook, ignore or simply attempt to subsume important activities like Experimentation, Execution, Enhancement and Evisceration.  Let's not stop with the emergence of explore and exploit.  Let's pull back the viewfinder and take a broader look at the entire end to end innovation process, from the earliest hints of needs in Exploration to the last dying gasps of an outdated product in Evisceration.  As we define and share a common framework, we can educate our clients, remove mystery and speak clearly and directly about specific tasks and outcomes.  We can highlight what our clients do well (define and build new products, maximize revenue and profits) and what they do poorly if at all (discover new needs, experiment to find the best solutions, create a graceful end of life for products).

The proposed six phases of an idea lifecycle
We've published a new white paper entitled Beyond Explore and Exploit, seeking to define an entire end to end idea lifecycle using six "E" words you've probably already noticed scattered throughout.  Those "E" words represent sequential steps in an idea lifecycle, from birth to death:
  • Explore - to find new insights, discover new needs, create new ideas
  • Experiment - to evolve the ideas and validate the features
  • Execute - to convert good ideas into new products or services and launch them
  • Exploit - to maximize profits and gain returns on the investments in the first 3 phases
  • Enhance - to extend the life of a product or provide new features or benefits
  • Eviscerate - to create a logical, graceful end for products, rather than leave them as zombies
You can find the entire whitepaper on our website here, along with other articles and papers.  I'd like to thank my good friend and frequent collaborator Paul Hobcraft for his thoughts and comments.  Any oversights or mistakes are of course mine alone.

So, what say you, gentle innovators?  Ready to think about creating one common, shared innovation life cycle?  What did we get right with this model?  What did we get wrong?  How do we lower the barriers for our clients through shared innovation models and frameworks?  Ready to give it a try?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:49 AM


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