It's called the fuzzy front end because very often the first stages of the innovation process tend to be ad-hoc, left to chance and very hard to repeat. For most companies it starts with a great idea. Or what is thiought to be a great idea. But whether it comes from a brainstorming session, out of the lab or from the CEO, the idea is not the ideal starting point for innovation.
The problem with great ideas is that they often have a life of their own. They cause a lot of excitement and a flurry of activity and investment to get them to market. But the reality is they don't always meet the strategic needs of the company or survive in the marketplace. We'd like to see the front end of the innovation be replaced with a planned, deliberate and repeatable process. One that can deliver many great ideas that go onto becoming successful revenue streams for the business.
Is innovation mentioned in the corporate plan? Innovation doesn't rate a mention in the corporate plan very often except perhaps from a cultural perspective. But what about its role in the company's growth plan? Or its contribution to the bottom line?
The questions we address when planning for innovation are designed to provide guidance to those responsible for making innovation happen. What are the financial, organisational and competitive objectives of the innovation programme? What are the markets, technologies or business models we want to leverage? What resources are we willing to invest? What level of risk are we prepared to take? How will we prioritise opportunities for the short, medium and long term? Do we want pioneer the market or follow the leader?
The innovation strategy focuses everyone's efforts, it ensures resources are directed strategically and importantly, it clearly communicates the role of innovation in the company's growth plan.
Innovation is sometimes seen as a creative almost mystical pursuit to uncover new customer needs and wants. At other times it relies on scientific or technological discovery to fuel better ways of solving age old problems. And occasionally it can unexpectedly turn a whole industry on its head. Often creativity and technology are seen to be "must haves" for igniting successful innovation programmes. In our experience neither creativity nor technology can guarantee the success of your innovation. Nor should a lack of either stop you from using innovation to fuel your growth.
Serial innovators and entrepreneurs harness the creativity of others to attain their vision. They also invest in the right technology once they have determined what it is that their market needs. They may not be all that creative but they know how to build a business.
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