There’s a common failure that’s repeated far too often. Innovators set their sights on new and disruptive outcomes but end up with products and services that are barely distinguishable from the products and services that exist. Too many times innovation teams start off with pre-conceived notions of what the objectives and outcomes can be, rather than throwing off the pre-existing conditions and attitudes to broaden and deepen the definitions and potential outcomes for innovation.
Many teams start off by defining what they “can’t” do. Can’t disrupt existing products or customers. Can’t enter a new market. Can’t take more than one year to get to market. This thinking defines a very narrow window of opportunity for any innovation activity, and as the window narrows, ideas become more conservative and “safe”. Further, we know that as ideas move from first concept to definition and on to product development, they are constantly refined, simplified and smoothed out. No product or service idea gets more disruptive as it moves through the process. Just the reverse is true. So if you start out with a scope or perspective that is too constrained, or simply focused on the wrong outcomes, you will almost by definition end up with a less than satisfactory product or service.
While some of the constraint is about risk and uncertainty, or about timeframes, other constraints are about intent and outcomes. For example, many firms think first and only about PRODUCT innovation, when there are many potential outcomes. Innovation can create new services, new channels, new business models and many more outcomes, yet almost every firm starts with, and often ends with, product innovation. A tip of the hat is necessary here to Larry Keeley at Doblin, who developed the Ten Types of Innovation model that we at OVO have adopted and use to talk to our clients about. If you start a project with intent, thinking about the potential outcomes for innovation, at least you have a chance of broadening the aperture and thinking about outcomes other than, or in parallel to, product innovation.
If you want radical, disruptive new products and services, the team must adopt that perspective and sustain that perspective. The team must challenge existing orthodoxy and stretch its own thinking, typically beyond product innovation. If the team doesn’t take the time to adopt the correct perspectives and expand their horizons about the possibilities of innovation, the results will typically be shaped by existing perspectives and will resemble existing products and services.