What is Innovation? A Survey – Article

You can download a PDF version of this here: What is Innovation? A Survey

What is Innovation? A Survey

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

The term innovation has really taken on a life of its own today. It’s pretty much everywhere you look – from almost every TV ad and company website to water-cooler talk and even presidential debate topics. Our founder, Chris Miller often jokes that innovation should have its own number on the stock exchange. It’s really turned into a hot topic not only in business, but in today’s culture itself.

With the term innovation being thrown around like it’s going out of style, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of what the term actually means. Many people who use the term regularly do not take the time to define what innovation means to them. They seem content just to say they’re innovative.

So what does innovation actually mean?

Merriam-Webster Online defines it as: “the introduction of something new” or “a new idea, method, or device.”

Wikipedia defines innovation as: “The term innovation may refer to both radical and incremental changes in thinking, in things, in processes or in services (Mckeown, 2008) Invention that gets out in to the world is innovation.”

Both are great starting definitions, but it feels like innovation is more then what is stated above. If it was that simple, why not just call it “new” and “changed”? Why throw the whole business world into a flurry? Why dedicate so much company time and energy to something as simple as “change” or “new”?

To find out, I surveyed the Innovation Focus staff. We’ve been in the innovation business for over 20 years, so I thought I might find a useful definition. Each person had a unique response from their perspective, and embellished on the simple definitions stated above:

“Innovation is the actualization of creative thought. In innovation we make the idea real. Creativity has a three step process… deep preparation and focus in area of expertise, exploration of irrelevant material and finally the connection back to the area of expertise… Innovation has a three step process as well: Discovery of the idea, Development of the idea, and finally Commercialization or implementation.”

“Innovation is the marriage of invention and creativity to produce practical applications.”

“Meaningful differentiation”

“In the broadest sense of the term, innovation means doing something (tangible or intangible) differently that results in improvements (tangible or intangible) that can be measured.” Also, “finding new and more meaningful ways to add/extract value that drops to the bottom line.”

“Innovation means positive change.”

“Innovation to me is connecting the dots differently than anyone else has thought to connect them. By doing so, different attributes, qualities or perspectives come into view that create opportunities that either did not exist before or were never visible. Seeing these opportunities and developing them faster and better than the competition allows the innovator to own the space and garner more of that opportunity.”

“Innovation to me can mean anything from the slightest most subtle improvement to a complete paradigm shift. When applied to the mundane processes of everyday life it can be nothing more than trying a new route to work or building a new Excel Macro (sorry my mind is always on systems). Sometimes things are better left alone and innovation comes from looking at it in a new way. Innovation lives and breathes and is always possible. The challenge comes in recognizing when we have found a truly new idea that can, with a little nurturing, fundamentally change the way we live and breathe.”

“Innovation is applied creativity, but so is invention. Perhaps the best way to answer “what is innovation?” is through the comparison of invention and innovation. The Patent and Trademark office defines patentability (invention) as something that is “novel”, “non-obvious” and “adequately described” (reduced to practice). Within this definition, an invention does not have to possess commercial value. For me, value is what defines innovation. The best definition for innovation I have come across is offered by the Chief Learning Officer of Goldman Sacs: “Innovation is fresh thinking that creates value”. This implies both a benefit and commercial potential. An innovation can be new to the world, new to the company, a line extension, product improvement, a re-positioning, and even a cost reduction. It should create value by: disrupting a market or industry and creating an entirely new one, creating a new position in the market, creating a new benefit, offering a new formula, create a new and useful technology, offer a way to enter a new market, provide a new way to sell or merchandize a product.”

As the variety of responses demonstrates, we believe innovation means more than something new or a change. To us, innovation means meaningful, differentiated change brought about by creativity that can be both small and game-changing.

Now I’d like to ask you, the Innovative Issues readers, what innovation means to you? Does your perception of innovation differ from ours? Is it the same? How so? You’re around innovation on a daily basis. Has this changed your view of it?

What Makes A Project Go Well – A Survey – Article

You can download a PDF version of this article here: What Makes A Project Go Well – A Survey

What Makes A Project Go Well – A Survey

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

Like most of your jobs, the business world of Innovation Focus is comprised of projects – ethnography projects, ideation projects, naming projects, sales projects, internal marketing projects, buying-the-owner-lunch projects…the list goes on and on. Sure, your projects aren’t exactly like the ones we do, but a project is a project; they all contain similar elements, constraints and challenges that we all encounter.

Sometimes those projects go well, and sometimes they bomb catastrophically. It’s usually very easy to identify why a project doesn’t go well. Not enough attention is paid to the aspects of a project that made it go off without a hitch.

I asked my fellow co-workers to call upon their experience in project work and answer this question: What makes a project go well? I wondered if the different experience levels in the wide range of projects we do would influence their responses.

Much to my surprise, the answers were pretty consistent. Clear objectives, good communication among team members and clients, and planning the project well are the clear-cut winners in what Innovation Focus thinks makes a project go well.

The responses are listed below. As you can see, the common theme is very much apparent:

“When there is a well-planned timeline and all team members stick to it.”

“The most important aspect of any project is communication. Yes, you will need all the right people, resources, and knowledge to see the project through to completion, but all of those assets cannot be brought together without great communication. For me, this always meant frequent, open communication with my clients and co-workers. Even small details, such as choosing a font for the final deliverable, might be important to some clients. It’s best to always let them know what stage of the process is being worked on, and give them ample opportunity to be involved and a part of the process. …it’s definitely a philosophy/way of doing business that has worked well for me in the past.”

“Clear project objectives and plan. Good clients – cooperative, involved, good attitudes, get back to you in a timely manner and are clear about what they want at the beginning of the project. They are also flexible and willing to respond to new opportunities. Organizational support for the project; organizational honesty, clear on what they can and can not do. Many will say they want a disruptive innovation project but really they only want incremental improvement.”

“Clear objectives supported by strong communication to ensure united team effort.”

“Projects are successful when there is enthusiasm and alignment about the objectives and methodology. Clear and constant communication among the team members with the team leader reinforcing roles and responsibilities is paramount. Even more important, though, is the power of doing meaningful work with a team that is inspired. Ya gotta believe in what you are doing to do it well.”

“For me, it’s planning and communication. Planning and communication between the project manager, the captain and the client gives a clear expectation of what the expected outcome and deliverables of the project will be to all the parties involved in the project. That knowledge when taken to me as a producer in a timely fashion provides the easiest production of the final deliverables as well as the ability to see potential problems that might occur down the road, and the time to address those issues. With adequate planning and communication between all parties any project can go well.”

“Clear goals, timing, and communication established with clients and the internal team make a project more likely to succeed. I find that when the internal team, in particular, are clear about objectives and timeframes, we are more likely to have cooperative and collaborative teamwork. For most projects, teamwork is primary even if most of the “team” is in a supportive or consultative role. For the client, we are more likely to achieve the end goals if we communicate steps along the way to minimize surprise, adjust the design when necessary, and check to see that the client is satisfied with the progress.”

“From my experience, the key to project success is preparation, preparation, preparation! Rarely will a project go from project kick-off to project close exactly as planned, without any bumps in the road. This can be very stressful for the team, especially in the field where resources are limited and tend to be unfamiliar. Being prepared for the unexpected will make all of the difference, and will ensure that the project goes well!”

“One of the key requirements for an innovation initiative to make it to market (go well) is the right team leadership. Innovation initiatives are different than the normal business projects and require different ways of leading, working, and implementing. Innovation is fundamentally about creating new knowledge and new ways of acting on it. This requires team leadership that can organize, mobilize, and franchise a project at all stages and across all functions and levels in an organization. It is absolutely essential to have team leadership that knows how to work with both the personal and organizational dynamics of innovation.”

“Collaboration is the key to making a project go well. When a client and a researcher work together through processes of planning, conducting fieldwork, analysis, report writing and dissemination, I realize that I have not only buy-in but ownership by the client of the research process. The synergy of working together with your client produces a satisfying experience and makes the project go well.”

As you can see, while they’re not the only factors, clear objectives, good communication among team members and clients, and high-quality planning are definitely key elements in what we feel make a project go well.

And now I throw the question to you, the faithful readers of Innovative Issues. What makes a project go well? Do you agree with us? Did we miss something? Is your experience with your projects unique and require something that isn’t listed here?

I want to hear from you. I will gather responses for the next month or so, and post a follow up article to this with those responses. If you’d like to participate, please send your response here.

How To Use Your Year-End Budget To Get To Know Your Customers – Article

You can download a PDF version of this here: How To Use Your Year-End Budget To Get To Know Your Customers

How To Use Your Year-End Budget To Get To Know Your Customers

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

The year is slowly winding down (or quickly if you’re in my shoes), which means it’s time to start thinking about your budgets for next year (and if you haven’t, you may want to hit that panic button soon – like right now – go!).

Some of you have the distinct luxury of still having money left in your budget. If you do still have money left – bravo! You’ve managed your budget well and met your goals in a cost-efficient manner. The only problem is you’ll lose the money you have if you don’t spend it. Worse yet, you might get less money next year than you did this year for your budget.

If you find yourself in this situation, why not use what’s left of your budget to get to know your customer better? You never know what valuable insight you might gain from it, and it’s relatively cost-effective when all the costs are taken into account.

Here are a few ways we recommend to get to know your customer with what’s left in your budget:

  • Blogging
    The blog continues to evolve as a great way to get in touch with your customers. The logistics couldn’t be easier: you set up a password- protected blogging website (we use where only the customers your recruit would have access. Each post is a question you would like your customers to respond to, and they do so in the comments section of that post. They are responding from the comfort of their own home at a time that is convenient for them. Using this method is cost-effective and logistically-easy to accomplish.
  • Homework
    Homework is something we typically ask an ethnographic respondent to complete either before or after their interview. This can take the form of collages of images cut out from magazines, pictures of a certain event or moment in time, or a video of a customer talking about what they like and don’t like about a product or just of their daily routines. We’ve been using the last option a lot lately. Disposable video cameras are only about $30 each. You could even have them post the video directly to YouTube. Video is a great way to see exactly what the customer experience is with your product or service. How better to hear about potential consumer needs than a video of a consumer using your product? Flickr is also a great way to get to see customers’ photos without going to visit them (as is evidence by the Flickr What’s In Your Bag Photo Pool). These homework options give you insight into your customer’s lives and value systems without having to leave the office.
  • LIFEBytes Online™
    A great way to leverage the audio and video tapes/files you have from recent projects is to upload them to your own LIFEbytes Online searchable web portal. A database is created from the transcripts of the audio/video (not simply key words as in YouTube). The video is then edited so that a simple ‘Google-like’ text search is done, and the result is the corresponding audio/video clips. This is a powerful way to put the Voice of the Customer on the desktop of all your team members. As video is added from new (or older) research projects, the database will hold not only the specific findings of each project, but also the comments/observations that at the time seemed less important. We are finding that these ‘out-takes’, when searched across many reports, can result in very significant insights.

So as you can see, having left over money isn’t a bad thing – especially when you use it to get to know your customer. And who knows? You may take advantage of one of the activities above and find an insight you didn’t previously have, which could lead to a whole new innovation or product.

Or, you can take the money and blow it in Vegas, but that’s a whole different article…

Practicing De Bono: A Way To Enhance Lateral Thinking – Article

You can download a PDF version of this here: Practicing De Bono: A Way To Enhance Lateral Thinking

Practicing De Bono: A Way To Enhance Lateral Thinking

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

Most of us in the new product development or creative problem solving world have been exposed to Edward De Bono. If you haven’t, this article attempts to summarize what you need to know in order to take advantage of this tool.

De Bono is the godfather of the term “lateral thinking”. Lateral thinking looks to restructure patterns of thinking within the brain to create insight. It also provokes new patterns of thinking and new ideas by utilizing creativity. For a full explanation of lateral thinking, check out De Bono’s book Lateral Thinking.

In the book referenced above, De Bono states that the mind is, at its core, an information handling system. Information is taken in through our senses and is organized and stored to be recalled (to the best of our ability) at a later time. Through our memory, the mind self-organizes the information taken in into patterns.

An example De Bono uses to illustrate this is pouring water over water over a flat piece of jelly. When the water is first poured, it begins to create grooves in the jelly. If you keep pouring water on the jelly, the grooves that were formed now guide the water where to go. The additional water only deepens and further defines these grooves. The water went from the guider to the guided.

This ties extremely close to the bias exercise we use when we run our ethnographic trainings. This exercise helps recognize biases so they can be managed when out in the field. Biases are conditioned ways of thinking constructed from our experiences. Biases skew the data we collect by automatically trying to categorize it into the experiences from our past. By doing this, biases make it difficult to uncover new insights and “ah-has” because the data is fitting into the same old patterns. They turn objective research into subjective research because data is based on someone else’s biases.

In De Bono’s example, biases are the grooves that guide the information taken in and organize it in a way we already know. So if we’re prone to doing this, how do we stop these from getting in the way of our new insights?

The first step is recognizing that you have a bias. The exercise we use helps bring a few biases to mind and allows the participant to recognize the behaviors and thought patterns that happen when a bias is skewing data. Recognizing these biases is half the battle.

I learned a tool to help manage and change biases that can be used anywhere, including in the field, at this year’s Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI). It was from a presentation by Frank Prince called “Be Creative 24/7 – 11 Key Strategies To Boost Creativity”. The presentation was built around simple tools people could use in their everyday lives to be more creative.

Frank stated that to get out of patterns, we need to change our behavior. Disrupting automatic behavior physically will cause a change in the pattern mentally. To do that, he recommended wearing a rubber band or one of the popular rubber bracelets and snapping it when it is recognized that these patterns are happening.

As a hypothetical, let’s say you’re in the field conducting research. The respondent you’re interviewing states that she loves widgets. You, through a past experience, have come to hate widgets. You begin to note your insight from the skewed perspective of your past when stop and recognize what you’re doing. You snap the bracelet on your wrist and change your observation to state what you observed, not your perspective of it. This observation leads to an insight that your service could be offered with widgets.

By disrupting learned patterns, the behavior learned through our biases is changing. The information taken in is pulled king in out of the patterns biases have created. By freeing the information from this pattern, it is free to be arranged into any pattern by looking at it objectively. Rearranging information this way could lead to a breakthrough insight that was impossible when the bias had a hold of the information.

This is the heart of lateral thinking – freeing data from pre-existing patterns so it can be rearranged into new ones, leading to new insights not otherwise possible.

Growth Strategies Seminar IX – Recap 4 of 4 – Rich Foods

You can download a PDF version of this here: Growth Strategies Seminar IX – Recap 4 of 4 – Rich Foods

Growth Strategies Seminar IX – Recap 4 of 4 – Rich Foods

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

Welcome to the last installment of recaps from our Growth Strategies Seminar IX. So far we’ve recapped presentations from Second City Communications, Liberty Hardware, and New Pig Corporation. In case you missed them, click the links above and check out the full presentations here:

Our final speaker of the day was Rob Kirwan from Rich Foods. Rob told the story of how Rich’s went through an Innovation Focus Discovery and Innovation™ program to look for new product ideas.

Rich’s has over 7000 business-to-business products in the food service industry, such as food products that are used by in-store bakeries and retail marketplaces. They had done some brainstorming in the past, but it was geared toward their current asset base and not connected to their customers. They wanted to get in touch with their customers to learn how they could make their lives easier when preparing food.

To do this, they conducted ethnographies in 5 major markets: Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, and New York. They built profile sheets for each city to illustrate items that depicted the flavor of that city. They looked at the findings and built themes for the opportunity areas they wanted to ideate around.

After ideation, one big opportunity area emerged: one-handed dispensing of whipped toppings (like on an ice cream sundae or hot chocolate). Rich’s aggressively plotted their ideas from this theme on a path that would lead them to a very high impact and innovative idea.

By properly planning their ideas, Rich’s is well on their way to achieving the high impact ideas they plotted on the path. Please see the presentation for pictures of all these products.

First, they introduced the D-Disc™. The D-Disc™ goes on the end of a bag of whipped topping and is used to help squeeze the topping out, which results in 40% less waste of product.

Next, the Topping Tunnel™ was introduced. This mounts directly on the side of a preparation area to permanently hold the topping bag and use the D-Disc™ to dispense it.

Also introduced right around the same time was the Topping Caddy™, which holds the topping in a refrigerated area to help keep it cool.

Finally, Rich’s introduced the Whipped Topping Dispensing System™. This innovative device looks like a caulking gun and offers the one-handed dispensing Rich’s was searching for.

In the future, they’re looking to introduce ambient self-serving topping stations, which is a station that contains the whipped topping and allows the customer to apply it themselves. It’s amazing to look at these product ideas and know that all of them are packaging and delivery changes – not one involves altering the topping formula in any way.

While reconnecting with their customers, Rich’s was able to uncover an unmet need and an opportunity to be innovative. Through aggressive planning, they were able to take the product ideas generated to meet this need into a market success.

Growth Strategies Seminar IX – Recap 3 of 4 – New Pig

You can download a PDF version of this here: Growth Strategies Seminar IX – Recap 3 of 4 – New Pig

Growth Strategies Seminar IX – Recap 3 of 4 – New Pig

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

We hope you enjoyed learning how to utilize improvisation in business with Second City Communications and how Liberty Hardware incorporated a culture of innovation into their company from our Growth Strategies Seminar IX. In case you missed them, click the links above and check out the full presentations here:

For our 3rd presentation of the day, Doug Laplante shared with us 3 tools his company, New Pig, uses to gain a shared point of view that helps lead to the next innovative idea (or, as he calls it, the Ah-Ha).

The first tool he used is basic modeling that focused front end activities. The models New Pig use are a dot map and rigorous criteria. The dot map takes different opportunity areas, quantifies them, and maps them on a matrix. The bigger the dot, the bigger the opportunity. New Pig then uses criteria they set to judge each opportunity area. They are thorough with these criteria, trying to take into account many different points of view. If the opportunity area has a big enough dot and fit the criteria, they go after it; if not, they dropp it. The importance of this tool is they are not afraid to walk away from opportunities because they know the opportunities they were moving forward with are exactly what they’re looking for.

The second tool summarizes qualitative learnings to create a shared story. During their ethnographic visits, New Pig goes into different “dirty jobs” and tries to look for where the pain points are and what their opportunity is to help relieve that pain. And by dirty, they mean dirty – check out the presentation to see the picture from the metal shop and see just how dirty they mean. After their ethnographies, they comes together and talks about their findings. From there, they create very robust stories that illustrate these pain points and opportunities.

The third tool New Pig uses is one that helps with orthodoxies. They have a graph that asks 4 questions, which is illustrated in the presentation. The first question helps identify the orthodoxy by looking at things that a person with a unique point of view (such as an actor, an employee, a customer, etc.) would never say about a certain topic (a company, product, etc.). This lets New Pig view that topic through many different perspectives. The second documents these views and pulls them into different themes that immerge from the responses to the first question. The third question takes the orthodoxy and flips it to look at what wouldn’t be said from the first question. The fourth and final question looks at the implications of acting on one of these orthodoxies.

These 3 tools ensure that everyone involved with new product development at New Pig are on the same page with their opportunities and heading in the same direction. Doug challenges companies to take a look at their discovery efforts and asks if everyone involved is working from the same playbook.

In our final recap from Growth Strategies IX, we review Rob Kirwan from Rich Foods’ success story from their Discovery and Innovation efforts.

Growth Strategies Seminar IX – Recap 2 of 4 – Liberty Hardware

You can download a PDF version of this article here: Growth Strategies Seminar IX – Recap 2 of 4 – Liberty Hardware

Growth Strategies Seminar IX – Recap 2 of 4: Liberty Hardware

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

We hope you enjoyed last month’s recap of Second City Communication’s presentation from our Growth Strategies Seminar IX. If you missed it, you can find it on our website here: This month, we’re recapping Micah Ray’s representation, found here:

Micah Ray has successfully led the creation of a culture of innovation at Liberty Hardware. Liberty’s primary source of revenue growth was through retail store growth and new customers, not new products. As Wal-Mart has demonstrated, growth is limited through that model. As Liberty’s double digit revenue growth began to slow, senior management realized it was time to invigorate bottom line growth with product innovation. New ways of thinking and acting were needed.

The existing culture that Micah had to work with was a ‘warrior’ culture, in which new product development was a low priority and the brainstorming approach to developing ideas for new products was considered time-consuming and unproductive. In addition, focused thought was rare, ‘creativity’ had a bad name, and there was no process for evaluating and using ideas.

Liberty Hardware, and its parent company Masco, started at the top with strategic planning for innovation. The existing plan was revised to include innovation as a key pillar leading with new product development. To support the culture change, Masco created the Masco Innovation Grant Fund, making funds available to move ideas into the new product development process. Then came the really hard work of diligently refocusing personnel in four key areas:

  • New Jobs: Identifying the new innovation jobs to be done, assigning them to the right people and insisting on co-location of new product development teams
  • New Tools: Identifying and training everyone in the tools and techniques essential to successful new product development, especially at the front end
  • New Language: Publicizing the new vocabulary and ensuring that teams understood they had permission to ‘fail’ in order to improve processes and outcomes
  • New Experiences: Supporting end-user research and bringing in ideas from outside the company

Now, Micah says, innovation at Liberty Hardware is popping up all throughout the company. It’s focused on innovation in product and processes, and is helping rethink their entire business model. Liberty Hardware is ready to begin its second wave of focused change on their culture this year as a second push to keep up the innovation momentum.

Some rules that Micah learned along the way include:

  • Change metrics to avoid confusion, include long term projects, and be part of everyone’s performance evaluation
  • Give permission to fail and move forward with the learnings without adverse consequences to individuals
  • Properly recognize everyone who is part of a project team
  • Be disciplined and continuously sell the new culture of innovation components internally and innovatively
  • Find the right-size for number of projects with the available innovation team resources

In the end, the steps taken above led to industry-changing products for their self-admitted most boring product line (bath safety) and a new technology that doesn’t exist in the US today.

Next month, we review Doug LaPlante of New Pig Corporation’s presentation on 3 tools New Pig uses for innovation.

Growth Strategies Seminar IX – Recap 1 of 4 – Second City Communications

You can download a PDF version of this here: Growth Strategies Seminar IX: Recap 1 of 4 – Second City Communications

Growth Strategies Seminar IX: Recap 1 of 4 – Second City Communications

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

Our 9th Annual Growth Strategies Seminar took place on April 3rd at The Barn in Lancaster, PA. For those of you unfamiliar with Growth Strategies, each year we invite new product development professionals from many different organizations to come together to mingle, listen to presentations, talk about the current state of innovation and share experiences and tips that others can apply to their organization. Best of all – it’s free! If you’d like to receive information about next year’s Growth Strategies, please send an email here.

This year we assembled four speakers from very different backgrounds to share stories from their experience and teach new skills that attendees could apply within their companies. All the presentations as well as speaker bios and art created at the session can be downloaded from our website at:

This series of articles will summarize each presentation and share what we can learn from each presentation. Each presenter will get their own article.

Second City Communications kicked off the morning with exercises in improvisation and how they could be applied within companies to create an innovative culture. Bumper Carol led us through three activities: ‘yes and’, ‘co-creating a story’, and ‘creating a story using just one word’.

We started by partnering up. One person was to offer ideas to their partner, and the partner needed to say “no” to every idea. Next, the roles were switched, but instead of saying no, the partner was instructed to say “yes, but” to every idea and then say why the idea couldn’t be done. Finally, the roles were again switched and ideas were responded to with “yes, and” to each idea and building on the idea. “Yes, anding” taught us how unconditional positive regard can snowball into some very big (and out there) ideas very quickly. It also showed how negative language (no, yes but) can kill ideas before they have a chance to fully evolve. Bumper asked what was heard more in the audience’s organizations: “yes, but” or “yes, and”. He made sure the audience knew “yes, and” could be used in everyday business.

Next, Second City actors Steve and Kate invited Mark Wolf of Guardian Life Insurance and Marg Poynor of National Qualpec to participate in a skit. The actors began telling a story, and when they put a hand on Mark or Marg’s shoulder, they had to fill in the next line of the scene. This showed the value of co-creation: by involving the audience and giving them ownership of the content, the laughs increased. The same goes for new products – when customers take ownership in the creation of a product, they feel a sense of pride and will help you not only make a product they’re looking for, but talk about it with their friends as well.

Finally, we learned the value of teamwork and setting each other up for success through the One Word Story activity. Each table had to write a story, but could only do so one word at a time from each table member. One person started the story with one word, and then the person to their left continued the story by adding a word to it. My table’s letter was supposed to be a letter home from camp, but somehow came to involve owing our dad money and a strip club (some questions are better left unasked). It taught us to set each other up for success by treating each other as part of a team, or as Second City calls it, an ensemble. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” applies to the ensemble – in this exercise, by setting each other up for success, the story becomes better (and hopefully funnier). Teams within an organization can utilize this principle by treating themselves as an ensemble and, hopefully, accomplishing more by working together.

Through “yes, anding”, involving employees and customers in the creation process, and having a team that works together as an ensemble instead of individuals, you can set up a culture that promotes innovation within your organization. This is why Innovation Focus is collaborating with Second City. We believe that innovation takes not only a rigorous process like our own, but a shift in an organization’s everyday culture toward innovation.

Hopefully you find the principles outlined by Second City as valuable as we do and begin to try to implement them within your companies. Give it a shot next time you get the opportunity. At the very least you’ll get a few laughs from a co-worker when your story turns from a work retreat into discovering Atlantis (again, don’t ask).

Next month, we review Micah Ray of Liberty Hardware’s presentation on fundamentally shifting Liberty’s business model to one that harbors innovation.

“Well, Why Not?”: The Value of Naivety In The Fuzzy Front End – Article

You can download a PDF version of this here: “Well, Why Not?”: The Value of Naivety In The Fuzzy Front End

“Well, Why Not?”: The Value of Naivety In The Fuzzy Front End

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

“Why would you want me? I don’t really know much about developing products,” was a phrase I heard recently while trying to recruit a consumer for one of our innovation sessions. She was hesitant about coming to our session because she felt she wouldn’t add anything to it.

I reassured her that her opinion was valuable or else I wouldn’t be asking her to come. It took some convincing, but she eventually agreed to come to the session. At the session, she did really well and had some really interesting ideas and insights.

The situation really got me thinking about how valuable naivety is in what we do at the Fuzzy Front End.

Now when I say naïve, I don’t mean someone who lacks understanding in general; I mean someone who is naïve to the new product development process and a given company’s capabilities and culture. It’s not that they couldn’t understand – it’s just that they don’t know because they aren’t around it and have never been exposed to it.

The value of someone who is naïve to your company and product development process is that they challenge assumptions because they aren’t constrained by them and aren’t aware of them.

Companies have many different constraints within them: manufacturing capabilities, cash flow issues, internal processes, procedures and policies, cash flow management, project schedules, target goals, not to mention employee personalities and company culture. All of these factors lead to assumptions of what ideas are and are not acceptable and can be accomplished.

A company employee could have a great idea, but it’s automatically rejected in the employees mind because they know the company would never do it. The idea is never articulated, and therefore never happens.

A naïve outsider’s perspective isn’t going to know what your company can and can’t do. They will articulate ideas based on their needs and not on the companies capabilities. They challenge the company’s assumptions with their ideas and force the company to break away from their conventional thinking.

If the idea is met with negativity or reluctance at the session (which happens sometimes, even though we preach unconditional positive regard), naïve outsiders question why the idea can’t be accomplished – they ask “why not?”. This challenges the assumptions of the company. Naïve outsides can lead to a company becoming innovative because they can ask “Why not?”, because they honestly don’t know.

Innovation lives in figuring out how to do things that have never been done before, at least by that company. An idea from a naïve perspective challenges a company to be innovative by forcing them to take a look and find a way to make it happen.

Companies can benefit from being naïve themselves. A great example of this is Southwest Airlines. When they first started out, they were running flights between 3 major airports in Texas. They were competing against bus companies for passengers, and had their cost structure set up to compete with bus fares.

When they started expanding, they kept their structure the same, still competing against buses. They were able to capture a good portion of the airline market because they’re naïve to the market and it’s internal structures. They didn’t know the fees and cost other airlines charged, so they didn’t feel the need to emulate them. Their naivety to the airline market made them a success.

The next time someone asks you “why not?” when you say your company can’t use their idea, take a step back and review what your answer would be. They’re viewing your company from a different, more naïve perspective than you, and could be onto something big.