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21st Century Innovation Inputs and Validation

By Tamara Barber from Innovation Evolved.

The innovation funnel is a visual representation that people are familiar with when discussing how companies move from ideas to products. And it accurately reflects the narrowing of possibilities that occurs over time: Every crazy idea you can imagine makes it into the top of the funnel; as the ideas are analyzed, fewer and fewer move down the funnel. And only a select few exit the funnel and become products.

But is the funnel the right shape for 21st-century innovation? David Nichols actually suggests a rocket shape to innovation, where a team starts with a very sharp vision and strategy that informs which ideas make the cut in the development process. The idea of a rocket is quite inspiring! A rocket is powerful, fast, and requires a lot of collaboration across different teams to make it work well. Shouldn’t we all be aiming for rocket-propelled ideas and products?!

The basic pieces of my original funnel still hold true in terms of the key inputs that need to take place. But I’ve overlaid these inputs with the rocket concept and taken some creative license in adapting it: for instance, I’ve flipped the rocket in a different direction from Nichols. Now, the conceptualization phase actually expands the whole shape just as much as the ideation phase. To extend this analogy one step further, each phase of innovation corresponds to one component of rocket propulsion.

  • Ignition = Opportunity Assessment – What is that spark of inspiration that ignites the entire innovation process?  Typically it is the recognition of a new market opportunity. Understanding a specific opportunity in the context of your firm’s overall vision and strategy gets everything in motion and sets the trajectory for the types of ideas you’re going to consider.
  • Nozzle = Insights-Based Ideation – In a rocket, fuel flows through the nozzle, which is flared out to propel the vehicle off the ground. Ideas – and a lot of them – are precious fuel in the innovation process. Ideally, these will be drawn upon viewpoints across and outside the organization and will be based on knowledge you have of the marketplace and your customers. These ideas are then narrowed down and explored in the conceptualization phase.
  • Combustion Chamber = Conceptualization –This is where the classic funnel misrepresents the process. Actually turning a select set of ideas into product concepts requires a new set of ideations: How should the offering be packaged? Do we need a new logo?  How will we message it? Does the color palette make a difference? What should the price point be? This expands the innovation space again: each concept has a particular set of attributes or characteristics that need to be explored. In a rocket, the combustion chamber is where hot, highly pressurized gasses expand to create the energy that leads to lift-off. A poorly executed expansion won’t provide enough power to get you where you want to go.
  • Guidance System = Evaluation and Benchmarking – If you don’t have a way to efficiently make informed choices on all these attributes, and permutations of attributes, then the innovation process becomes an exercise rooted in gut instinct rather than in data. Measuring the appeal of one concept chosen by gut isn’t measurement; you need to identify and measure the best opportunities out of all the permutations of ideas. Marketers need clear maps outlining which attributes will be most important to a target audience, and how the best concepts perform against the competition.
  • Payload System = Go/No Go. The very top of the rocket is the payload, and it’s what’s actually carried into space. This is your precious cargo, which depends on a well-tuned system to get it off the ground.

If you want your innovation to reach new heights, forget the innovation funnel and get on board the innovation rocket.


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