Innovation Inside the Box: Best of Articles


By: Anne Orban, M.Ed., NPDP

The focus for Innovation Inside the Box is to extend a profitable lifecycle by creating meaningful differentiation in existing categories with current customers, and in many cases, with existing capability. RIR is an abbreviation of Innovation Focus’s process consisting of “Research, Innovation Cycle, Research”. The first ‘R’ – standing for Research – is for finding problems worth solving that are yours to own.  The ‘I’ – standing for Innovation Cycle – is the process for finding and selecting the best ideas.  The final ‘R’ stands for Research – again!!  This time the research is for validating, refining and optimizing selected ideas.  Innovation Focus recommends that all product development teams follow this process – whether at the front end of the product lifecycle, in the middle or to prolong product life after the peak.

Companies that have a culture of innovation that work well have an RIR process for product development. This process is repeated as products go up the adoption curve, peak to prolong value and to manage entropy so as to find sustainable value or a gracious end.  A simple way to determine how effective your company is at RIR is to ask if itis a process employed with discipline and rigor all along a product’s lifecycle for optimizing the Return on Investment.

For effective RIR along the product lifecycle, it is helpful to consider the cycle in three stages or areas of focus: “Get the Job Done Innovation”, “Smart Tactical Innovation” and “Rethink, Redo, Re-launch Innovation” (as illustrated on the graph below). Companies need a tactical and well-resourced RIR product development habit with a big RIR tool box to be successful over the long term.

Get-the-Job-Done Innovation is essential after a new product/service launch because new product success requires a strategy of continuous investment for the next iteration before fast followers enter with really competitive next generation options.  Ongoing voice of the customer (VOC) and voice of the market (VOM) is particularly important for R at this stage to understand the extent to which your product actually performs on the dimensions of the jobs customers are hiring it to do.  This iterative VOC can also uncover new problems to be solved that your product has revealed.

Within RIR, the ‘I’ for Innovation Cycle requires a toolbox of creative problem solving processes.  Brainstorming has been getting some bad press recently: proving that any good tool can be sub-optimized.  Brainstorming is a group process, not a process of coincidental inspiration for individuals.  Individual inspiration is a great thing but groups need skilled facilitation to get inspiration to work.  For group brainstorming, process must be separated from content, there must be a good mix of people in a room, with good preparation, sufficient time and creative exercises to really stretch idea generation beyond the top-of-mind into lateral thinking for optimal results from the ‘I’ in RIR .  (Chris Miller’s chapter on ‘Getting Lightning to Strike’ in the Product Development and Management Association’s Handbook, 2nd and 3rd editions is a good place to go for a brainstorming process brush-up).


RIR for Smart Tactical Innovation is aimed at delivering incremental innovation to harness and grow opportunities for extending profitable product life.  Just think Proctor & Gamble’s Tide® brand.  However, RIR needs to be employed in ways thatavoid short-term, unrewarding incrementalism.  The RIR tools and techniques you choose will depend on whether you are managing a product, a product line, a brand, an offer, a maturing segment, a promotion or all of the above. Smart tactical innovation requires customized rigorous and disciplined RIR. The first R can mean re-purposing a front end of innovation technique such as company-blind contextual research, to deeply re-engaging with early adopters.  Similarly, the ‘I’ should be approached very creatively to stimulate really good ideas inside-the-box because it’s about stimulating depth not breadth.  Research to validate and refine will also require tools that permit more complex analysis such as discrete choice models.

Many products die of neglect. In a highly competitive marketplace, why squander all the effort that has gone into a product’s life? Why not engage in tactical innovation to Rethink, Redo, Relaunch or for a gracious transition at end between product generations? Why not use the RIR model to inspire thoughtful decision-making and viable options?  The RIR model at this stage targets VOC and VOM research for understanding residual value. This could mean selling the brand name.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal,  April 18, 2012, in an article titled, Old Brands Get a Second Shot:  Entrepreneurs Snap Up Rights to Revive Popular Names From Days Gone By,  revitalizing a product lifecycle could mean selling a production line to a developing country. Volkswagen did this to its New Stanton, PA plant when China was first modernizing in the late 1980’s. China bought the equipment and reassembled it in Shanghai to manufacture cars. It could mean re-launching product to a new generation through savvy repositioning and advertising. The English company, Burberry, was successful in reaching a younger, hip audience with its iconic plaid pattern and style.  The key to Rethink, Redo, Re-launch Innovation is developing the right problem statement and creatively going into your toolbox to get the best out of the RIR process.

Clearly, in the RIR model, process rigor and disciplined execution is key for success, along with a big box of tools and techniques to draw upon creatively. When you short-change the process, you sub-optimize results. Sub-optimized RIR results in ‘innovation’ are superficial and succumb to the tyranny of power and opinion.

Here are some RIR tools and techniques that Innovation Focus has identified for the three tactical areas in the product lifecycle RIR innovation process.


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