The fuzzy front end of innovation confronts you with a lot of questions. In my new book ‘Creating Innovative Products and Services’ I try to solve them. In my last blog on Innovation Management I presented a structured creative ideation approach called FORTH. It is a customer oriented practical method. A handy format to start ideation!
But how do you start ideation in practice? Often there’s a top manager experiencing an urgent need for something new. A new competitor may have entered the market, turnover may have decreased dramatically or a big contract is lost. And something has to happen: we need to innovate. And a special innovation project team is set up and starts generating ideas. But an essential point is often missed: ideas for what? That’s the question!
You should never start an innovation expedition unprepared. As good preparation not only increases the chances of success but it also creates priorities, direction and the will to succeed. That’s why it is essential to start your innovation journey with a clear and concrete innovation assignment. This forces the top management, from the start, to be concrete about the market/target group for which the innovations must be developed and which criteria these new concepts must meet. This forms the guidelines for your ideation team when you are underway. You can formulate the innovation assignment with the help of the following six questions:
Together with your top management you answer the above question in an innovation focus workshop. Often your board has not decided yet on the criteria the new concepts should meet. Then it helps to ask some questions. In practice you will go a long way with the following eight questions:
So in discussion with your top management, you can collectively formulate which criteria the new product ideas must meet as well as determine the ambition levels. Here’s a real life example of an innovation assignment of a company in temporary staffing of agricultural workers in Europe:
This innovation assignment gives direction and manages expectations of both the top management as the members of the innovation team. You can download a free checklist on how to make an innovation assignment at the website of the FORTH innovation method.
I wish you a lot of success getting a clear focus before you start!
Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).
He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.
Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.