How to make innovation soar: the bird model

The traditional models of innovation, based on planning and making reasonable assumptions, don’t work. To make innovation work requires a radical rethink based on the reality of efforts that don’t go according to plan and that can achieve unreasonable levels of success: maximizing the rate of learning. In a recent webinar with the PDMA, Managing Innovation from Ideation to a Scalable Business — Lessons from the Real World, I described my bird model of innovation.

We’d all like our new innovations to soar. But many processes like stage-gate, designed for already soaring businesses, often kill baby birds. To get soaring innovations, follow these phases:

Innovation starts with the parent bird who is totally committed to building the nest. Finding this committed innovator with actionable insight is the work of the ideation phase. Ideas are not the inputs to the process, they are the byproduct of the committed innovator.

Most companies take their idea and just run down the most obvious path. But the best ideas can go in multiple directions and are plagued by uncertainty. Of all the possible eggs you might focus on, which one is your golden egg? Make uncertainty and ambiguity your allies by taking the time to formulate your innovation, developing an aligned learning plan. Formulation is continual, as most innovations need to be reformulated as you learn.

Once you’ve got your golden egg, you’ve got to incubate it to prove it out. Don’t focus on the work to be done, rather, focus on demonstrating the proof points: what do you want to know before mortgaging your house to invest in the idea? Along the way, expect to break some eggs, and reformulate a few times, as you expand your idea and finally close it down on an proven opportunity, your fledgling!

Resist the temptation to kick your fledgling out of the nest immediately, by for example, submitting it to the crushing pressure of the quarterly P&L statement. Like an adolescent, fledglings benefit from some adult discipline but have many awkward issues to work out before they are ready to fly. Transitioning from proof-based metrics to business-based metrics is the work of the acceleration phase, and the result is a scalable business.

Your innovation can then soar!

Here is a replay of the webinar:


(To watch in Hi-Def mode, click the gears icon in the player above and select the highest resolution)

And the abstract from the PDMA:
For more than a decade, companies have focused on innovation. Hundreds of approaches to innovation have emerged, many with limited success. What has worked? What has not? Why have business leaders been disappointed with ideation? Why have many companies failed to realize the promise of innovation? SmartOrg’s David Matheson will provide answers to these and other questions and introduce a business model for selecting, developing and successfully exploiting innovative business opportunities.