Optimize Your Innovation Potential

Leap of FaithThe Innovation Nightmare is spending years and millions to build and perfect a product or service that people don’t need or want.

Ensuring new product success is the Holy Grail for new product developers. Yet for all the research and the real progress we have made to improve our processes and culture for innovation, in too many instances, innovation success is still a big leap of faith.

No matter how good our stages and gates processes may be, we must work on the right idea – the right ‘it’. How can we do better in that regard? Consider a new paradigm from Alberto Savoia, Engineering Director and Innovation Champion at Google Inc. and his collaborator, Jeremy Clark, President of FXX Inc.

Savoia and Clark’s new paradigm is based on what Thomas Edison said: ‘If you want innovation, don’t look for ideas, look for innovators.’ Start with serial innovators and give them a simple process for separating ideas from opinion because without that ‘every idea can be a winner!’ They challenged themselves to resolve the conundrum of how to avoid the false positives – the too good to fail ideas that do fail, like Webvan, and, how to not fall victim to false negatives – the too stupid to succeed ideas that do succeed, like Twitter.

All of us recognize serial innovators such as Steve Jobs at Apple;  Elon Musk with Paypal, SpaceX, and Tesla; and Alberto Savoia, a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur and pre-IPO Google employee. Savoia’s innovations have been recognized by many awards including Software Development Jolt awards in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008.  What distinguishes Jobs, Musk and Savoia is that their innovations have helped establish and grow new-to-the world product and service businesses.

Although many mature companies have serial innovators within their ranks, many of these companies are just as likely to have the potential of their serial innovators fall victim to the written and unwritten rules of the corporate game. Savoia and Clark’s new modality of eXtreme innovation is designed to prevent that. Currently, the typical modalities to develop ideas for new product/service development are 1) corporate R & D groups, in a Top Down structured innovation modality, and 2) the democratic employee-centric modality in which all employees are encouraged to generate ideas facilitated by software programs.  Now, add to this binary framework a third modality — what Alberto calls the eXtreme Innovation Manifesto. 

What Savoia and Clark propose is to enhance what most companies are currently doing to find ideas with what they are calling the eXtreme Innovation.  The eXtreme Innovation Manifesto starts with identifying and nurturing our serial innovators — and giving them extraordinary freedoms – with some structure. 

The eXtreme Innovation Manifesto calls for organizations to identify 2 to 5 extreme/serial innovators and facilitate their work by creating a flat and autonomous organizational structure that uses the manager role as connector not controller. The management paradigm must therefore feature an infrastructure for openness, collaboration, freedom and speed, with the requirement to test many ideas cheaply and fast. The key to institutionalizing this last provision, well before any investment in prototyping, is pretendo-typing/pretotyping. Pretotying is a down and dirty way to quickly build evidence of consumer demand for an idea, to prove whether the idea addresses a problem worth solving.

disasterUsing a pretotype, serial innovators test their ideas with consumers in ways that are recognizable enough, with form and content to get feedback for the idea. This allows the innovator to see whether a subset of people care enough to use the idea pretotype.  In short, it changes opinion into data about an idea’s potential to be the right ‘it’. And, please note what it is NOT — it is not traditional concept testing.  It is a thingum-me-jig trial. It’s sussing-out an idea’s consumer potential as a ‘hit’ and to avoid F.L.O.P.-ing (Failure in Launch Operations or Premise).

So, how do we develop a pretotype?  Here’s where our creativity must come in.  A pretotype could be a Post-It® note with a user interface drawn on it; it could be a Styrofoam and string thing; it could be … whatever the serial innovator and her network figure out will enable a subset of their target population enough of a feel for the idea to provide feedback.  This information can be fed into a basic Excel database. Pretotyping, well before prototyping, means that the ideas that make it into prototype form are much, much more likely to be the right ‘its’.  Working this way with the right ‘its’ will clearly save organizations time and money, and, the intellectual and emotional investment that make ideas in the prototype stage so very hard to kill.

To comment on this article and to find out more about the eXtreme Innovation Manifesto and pretotyping please send your questions to jmchenry@innovationfocus.com to put you in touch with Alberto Savoia and Jeremy Clark.

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