Companies & Industries

31 Innovation Questions


Harvard blogger Scott Anthony kicks off the new year by answering the questions he hears most frequently at his presentations

Posted on Harvard Business Review: December 27, 2010 9:45 AM

One of the simple ways that I try to make experimentation an everyday activity is to always try at least one new thing each time I give a presentation. One such recent experiment I called "choose your own presentation." I looked back at the 20 or so talks that I'd given this past year, and I tried to group material into the questions that I most commonly get asked. I ended up with 31 questions. My colleagues circulated the list before my presentation, and I went through the eight questions that garnered the most interest.

I thought it would be helpful to provide the list of 31 questions, and my one sentence perspective on each question, as it dovetails with my current book project (tentatively titled, The Little Black Book of Innovation.) Consider it a summary of what's on my mind as 2010 comes to a close.

1. How do you define innovation? Something different that has impact.

2. What are different types of innovation? Innovation is more than whiz-bang technology; consider different strategic intents (e.g., create a new category, extend current business) or innovation mechanisms (e.g., new product, distribution channel, marketing approach).

3. How do I spot opportunities for innovation? Go to the source: the customer you hope to target.

4. Which customers should I target? Look beyond your best customers to those who face a constraint that inhibits their ability to solve the problems they face in their life.

5. What should I look for? As Drucker said, "the customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him;" look for a job-to-be-done, an important problem that is not adequately solved by current solutions.

6. How should I look? Start with deep ethnographic research; avoid focus groups!

7. How do I come up with an idea? Remember the Picasso line "good artists copy, great artists steal;" seek to borrow ideas from other industries or geographies.

8. What is disruptive innovation? An innovation that transforms a market or creates a new one through simplicity, convenience, affordability or accessibility.

9. What is the best way to disrupt a market? Embrace the power of trade offs. Seek to be just "good enough" along historical performance dimensions but introduce new benefits related to simplicity or affordability.

10. What does "good enough" mean? Performance above a minimum threshold to adequately solve a customer's job to be done; sacrificing performance along traditional dimensions can open up new avenues to innovate.

11. What is a business model (and how do I innovate one)? How a company creates, captures, and delivers value; codifying the current business model is the critical first step of business model innovation.

12. How can I "love the low end"? Build a business model designed around the low-end customer's job-to-be-done.

13. How do I know if my idea is good? Let patterns guide and actions decide; remember Scott Cook's advice that "for every failure we had we had spreadsheets that looked awesome."

14. How can I learn more about my idea? Design and execute "high return on investment" experiments to address critical unknowns.

15. How can I get other people behind my idea? Bring the idea to life through visuals and customer testimonials.

16. How long does it take new businesses to scale? Almost always longer than initial projections; be patient for growth and impatient for profits.

17. Why is innovation so important? The "new normal" of constant change requires mastering perpetual transformation.

18. Why is innovation so hard? Most organizations are designed to execute, not to innovate.

19. Who are your influences? Academics like Clayton Christensen and Vijay Govindarajan, leading-edge innovative companies like Procter & Gamble and Cisco Systems, and thoughtful writers like Michael Mauboussin and Bill James.

20. How do I encourage innovation in my organization? Stop punishing anything that smells like failure, recognizing that failure is often a critical part of the innovation process.

21. What is "the sucking sound of the core?" The pull of the core business and business model that subtly influences new ideas so they resemble what the organization has done before.

22. What is an innovation "safe space"? An organizational mechanism that protects innovators from the sucking sounds of the core.

23. How should I form and manage innovation teams? Keep deadlines tight and decision makers focused.

24. What is in a good innovation strategy? Overall goals, a target portfolio for innovation efforts, a mechanism to allocate resources to achieve that portfolio, and clearly defined goals and boundaries for innovation.

25. What is the best way to manage an innovation portfolio? Make sure you correctly capture current activities and measure and manage different kinds of innovations in different ways.

26. What does 'prudent pruning' mean? Recognizing that destruction is often a critical component of creation.

27. What role should senior executives play in innovation? A big one.

28. How can I personally become a better innovator? Practice—innovation is a skill that can be mastered.

29. How can I find more resources for innovation? Shut down "zombie projects" that are a drain on corporate resources.

30. How can I more quickly turn good ideas into good businesses? Remember what Edison said—genius is "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration;" get ready to sweat.

31. Has anyone built the ability to innovate at scale? An increasing number of companies, such as Google, Apple, Procter & Gamble, Amazon.com, Cisco Systems, Godrej & Boyce and General Electric.

I would love to hear any other questions that are on your minds as I work with my colleagues to think about our research agenda for 2011 and beyond.


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