Why we’ve got the innovation process all wrong and how to fix it

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We are in the paradoxical position where everyone recognises how important innovation is, but no one agrees what it is or what successful innovation actually looks like. Just about everyone thinks it’s important. And everyone mentions innovation as one of the few ways to counter economic bad weather, create competitive advantage and drive growth.

Innovation effort is not the same as innovation output. Huge sums of money are thrown at innovation from government departments or earmarked within corporate budgets or corporate venture capital but what is the return on that investment? Does the innovation effort bear fruit or it is just innovation theatre?

Dr Alan Watkins latest book, Innovation Sucks! Time to Think Differently, co-authored with director of innovation business, Impeller Ventures, Simon May, challenges some of the ‘ingrained truths’ of innovation and suggests a different approach. 

Fundamentally, innovation is not the creation of a novel idea. It is the successful commercialisation of that novel idea. Rather than starting with costly, time-consuming problem assessment that seeks to push potential solutions through an innovation funnel and eventually launch a product or service into a market, an ‘impeller approach’ starts with possible solutions and gets the market to pull (suck) the best ones forward so they can fail or flourish fast.

Innovation Sucks! is split into two main parts:

Part one looks at why innovation is not delivering the required results. This includes exploration of the flawed assumption that we must start with the problem and better understand the problem. An excessive focus on describing the problem is where most of the time and money is wasted.

Part two of the book presents a different way to innovate using an ‘impeller’ approach – which is explained in detail.

This impeller approach is made possible by the addition of a ‘bee’ – a new type of integrative thinker who can harvests existing knowledge from a ‘meadow of experts.’ Completely reversing the innovation process means organisations are much better placed to win in the market rather than focus on finding theoretical solutions or clearing innovation stage gates. In addition, this approach also recognises that the people who shepherd the solution through the ideation and testing stage are not the same people who must then take that solution to market for successful commercialisation.

An impeller approach creates a vacuum that sucks new ideas or technology into a market. If the innovation fails along the way, the market simply continues to suck other solutions toward successful commercialisation. This is a crucial distinction. An impeller approach delivers multiple potential answers which also better define the question. So reversing the innovation process enables products, services and new business models to fail or flourish fast.

Given the current innovation failure rate, coupled with the fact that society is beset with multiple wicked problems, it’s time to think differently and innovate innovation itself.

Innovation Sucks! Time to Think Differently, is essential reading for Heads of Innovation and Commercialisation, Directors of Marketing, Heads of New Product Development and New Service Development, Strategy Directors, Chief Technology Officers, Government advisers and policy makers.

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