innovation principles

Comparing ideas: like for like?

View from Ben Macdui shared from

In the innovation landscape, many local minima occur: ideas which are better than their peers in the immediate locality, but not necessarily the best overall.  These ideas are often very different in character: perhaps one is a service, another a product; one is cheaper but the other has added benefits, one solves two problems and creates another, whilst the other is only partially a solution.  Comparing them is like comparing the heights of different mountains – or the depths of valleys – by walking over them and looking from one to the other, without recourse to GPS.  Like the mountaineers of past generations, who once thought Ben MacDui, not Ben Nevis, was the highest mountain in the UK, innovators naturally find it challenging to judge ideas against one another simply by exploring them.

Instead a different perspective is required: a bird’s eye view, if you will.  This is where criteria become incredibly important.  It’s really key to understand from the outset what makes a good idea, what you really care about, how much you value different attributes.  Spending time up front exploring criteria for success is rarely wasted, and often comes up with surprising answers.  It’s not quite a black and white as GPS, but it certainly beats a random walk.

innovation principles

Innovation ≠ Idea Creation

Often the insight in innovation is choosing and developing the right ideas, not in coming up with them in the first place.

I have worked on innovation with many blue-chip companies such as Shell, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo.   Often, they’ll come asking for an idea, a solution, the  ‘golden bullet’ that will solve a key business or technical issue.  However I’ve been struck by how often the value in an innovation program is not the ideas that are generated, but the frameworks used to explore and classify the portfolio. Sometimes the solution is already there, ready to be drawn out from the shadows and built into a winner.  Other times there is no right answer – but it turns out the question could be avoided.  Or perhaps the internal team are already doing the right thing, but management needs to be convinced.   Even if your program has come up with the right idea, it still needs to be identified and developed to a level where its value is evident.   An army of ideas is no use if no-one can tell who has the loaded gun.