There are few topics hotter than innovation right now but, like any overused buzzword, it has been stripped of its meaning along the way. Throw out the term in any leadership meeting and it is likely to kick up a lot of dust and to-dos. But the thoughtful processes required for innovation success often get obscured in the mania, which only serves to drive dysfunction.
I find that there are three common pitfalls, or traps, that teams get mired in during their attempts to innovate. These issues transcend approach, so it does not matter if you are a believer in the evolution of Stage-Gate, have moved on to the Lean Startup process, or are the guru of your own methodology. Be wary of the following hazards.
Pitfall #1: Begin (and end) with ideation
In pursuit of innovation, teams scramble to brainstorm new ideas. The trouble is when that becomes the end of the story. Ideas are surfaced and recorded. They are either pursued or tabled without clear expectations, and no real processes are established to evaluate and test possible outcomes. In fact, there might not even be a distinct reason to hold the session other than to check a box and say, “Yes, we are pursuing innovation.”
Pitfall #2: Evaluating ideas equally and simultaneously
Even though two ideas might sit side-by-side on a white board, that does not mean they’re intended to address the same issue within your organization’s product or service portfolio. Risks are unique for each, development resources and potential ROI is unique, etc., so every idea should be evaluated based on its intended contribution. Ideas might apply to product renovation, transforming a product lineup, or attempting to disrupt the entire marketplace — these are different paths and should be evaluated based on company needs, aspirations and risk tolerance. Often if an idea is not deemed “the big one,” the team scraps it altogether only to find themselves huddled around the ideation table once more.
Pitfall #3: Using the wrong tools
Concept testing, product testing, pricing studies. Though these studies are the bedrock of product development research, they are not necessarily the “last word” in determining the merit of all new ideas. An idea that seems implausible when assessed with survey research might actually be the exact answer when processed with a different set of assumptions or expectations, or by engaging in co-creation.
If you recognize these patterns in your own team, read my white paper on the subject for solutions to each pitfall. Creativity is often thought as something to be teased out or as a gift of the chosen few. In reality, given the right circumstances, processes, and evaluation, profitable innovation is within reach for every team.
For more information on avoiding pitfalls in the innovation process, please see our white paper, ‘Avoiding New Product Development Traps’, or read our blog, ‘Roadblocks, Inefficiency, and Risk: Exploring Alternatives to Innovation Research‘.