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A proven technique to make innovation happen

July 17, 2018

Six actions to drive innovation and six to avoid…

Undeniably, organizations are realizing the need for innovation to sustain growth, but teams and individuals are hindered by believing they are not innovative. Well the truth is, you don’t need to be Steve Jobs to make it happen. If a person is willing, they can innovate if the right system is in place to do it.

Our Innovation Engineering process can enable anyone, anywhere to innovate. Here are 6 key actions that can turn your team into an innovative one.

1 - Radically clarify the problem

Innovator’s don’t:

  • marry an idea if it isn’t solving a real problem or aligning with the overall mission;
  • resist changing an idea in light of negative feedback; or
  • vaguely list problems and throw suggestion boxes on walls.

You can do this…

Always start with a mission. Clearly identify a pressing issue that you have immediate control over. A good way to start is to list every possible problem and then rank them by importance. These can be internal systems issues, or they can be problems that customers are facing that need to be solved.

Also, give clear parameters to this mission. What is the back story as to why this is important? What are the resource constraints? What types of ideas are you not interested in? What types of ideas are you interested in? This will help set your team up for success.

2 – Assemble your innovation team

Innovator’s don’t:

  • assemble teams from a single department to a solve problem in that same department;
  • rely only on R&D or product development employees to come up with ideas; or
  • assume that large teams are better for more input.

You can do this…

Think about interest. Who is, or could be, passionate about this project? Think about diversity. Employees from different departments, levels, and backgrounds will increase the potential for innovation.

Think small. A project team should have 6–8 people maximum. This is the right size for an innovation project to ensure the project stays on track and everyone can stay focused.

3 – Do the research

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

Innovator’s don’t:

  • research only on what competitors are doing (local or worldwide); or
  • consider only customer interests.
  • look for information to confirm their biases

You can do this…

Focus on the problem you are solving. Have the project team spend an hour or two collecting information from a variety of sources to inspire fresh thinking. Consider:

  • Market: Find information about direct and indirect competitors
  • Insight: Use the voice of your customer


  • Future: Find out about future trends and predictions
  • Patent: Explore patent databases
  • Wisdom: Look at academic research
  • Unrelated: Look at trends and developments in industries unrelated to yours

4 – Generate big ideas to solve the problem

Innovator’s don’t:

  • run classic brainstorming sessions or “brain drains” where participants only dump what is already on their minds.

You can do this…

Use stimulus and diversity to generate meaningfully unique ideas. Pull elements of your research into a presentation to get your team’s brains buzzing with information when creating ideas. Then, leverage creative tools such as mind mapping and others to push the boundaries of your current thinking!

5 – Do the math

Innovator’s don’t:

  • wait to start the math; or
  • invest in ideas, only to find out the numbers don’t work.

You can do this…
Start with napkin math right away. Put together some rough figures as a starting point to find out if your idea is worth spending even one more day on.

Provide educated estimates about the idea’s potential revenue, savings, or other metrics that will lend credibility to your business case. Your napkin math will absolutely be wrong—but it will be useful! The key is to state your assumptions about every number that you use. That way as the project moves along, we can validate those assumptions and make our math stronger.

In Innovation Engineering we always say, “Math is the gas pedal. No math = no project.”

6 – Fail fast, fail cheap

Innovator’s don’t:

  • study ideas to death causing “analysis paralysis”;
  • fail to make decisions because lack of perfect data; or
  • fall in love with any one idea.

You can do this…

List all the “death threats”, roadblocks that could kill your idea. Then run Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles of learning on each death threat. The key here is to start with the biggest threat and tackle that first. That way we don’t waste time tackling smaller ones if a bigger one will kill the idea later.

The goal is to get just enough information to decide if we can get past the threat or not. If we can, great—on to the next death threat. If we can’t, then we need to either pivot our idea in a new direction or kill the idea and start working on our next favourite idea. We need to stay mission focused not idea focused. Accept that not everything you try will be a success. In this process, failure should be considered as learning and not a loss.

Whether you are a business owner, leader, or team member, you can take these actions to begin unleashing an innovative culture in any organization. I wish you much success in your innovation journey!


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Leave a Comment

One comment on “A proven technique to make innovation happen”

  1. This is a great synopsis David. Thank you for reinforcing the value of a diverse innovation team. I have a design sprint planned for later this month & was tempted to exclude other teams because everyone is so busy but the truth is we need their perspective to be successful & they are excited to participate.

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