One Out of Seven is Ridiculous

Suppose you are a professional soccer player, chosen to kick the penalties for your team. And you scored only one out of seven penalties. Would you be satisfied? How long do you think your trainer and fellow players let you take penalties? They would probably kick you out of the team after the second failure in a row.

Innovation Guru Robert G. Cooper confirms in the 2011 edition of ‘Winning at new Products’ again that only one out of seven new product ideas is really a success in the market. For every seven new product ideas, about four enter development, 1.5 are launched, and only one succeeds. So only one out of seven official innovation projects reaches ‘the net’. The rest has been stopped, failed or are forever stuck in the back end of the innovation funnel. So, if one out of seven penalties is unacceptable in professional soccer, can we as innovators accept an effectiveness rate of one out of seven?

And it becomes even worse. The innovativeness of new products and services that do reach the market is becoming less and less. New-to-the-world products, the first in their kind and creating an entirely new market, represents only ten percent of all new products. And research shows this percentage is even shrinking (Cooper, 2011).

What really amazes me is that a lot of managers, practitioners and researchers seem to accept a one out of seven effectiveness rate. Wake up, innovators! It all starts by not accepting that this is normal.

Of course every one of us is optimising his or her methods and best practices. Actually there is a lot going on in innovation at the moment. Taking inventory of all the latest developments I came up with an impressive fifteen striking developments in Innovation. First of all there is ‘Sustainable Innovation’ which was the conference theme of ISPIM in Hamburg in 2011. ‘Business Model Innovation’ is a second development, being very popular in creating innovative services and web based concepts. ‘Service innovation’ is a hot topic, especially in more western type economies where seventy-five percent of the people is working in services. Closely related is the ‘Design Thinking’ trend, especially with new books on service design thinking. ‘Collaborative Innovation’ is another development, which has also connections with ‘Participatory Innovation’, ‘Social Innovation’ and ‘Employee Driven Innovation’. And some companies are exploring the trend of ‘Insourcing Innovation’ where on the other hand others are pursuing ‘Outsourcing Innovation’. Marketers are sponsors of what is being called ‘Brand Driven Innovation’. Innovation as result of the interaction among an ecology of actors is labelled as ‘Innovation Ecosystems’.Challenge Driven Innovation’ is also one of the new kids on the block, as is ‘Agile Innovation’ to speed up the process. Last but not least there is ‘Frugal Innovation’ which focuses on the needs of the bottom of the pyramid as a starting point.

But will these developments lead to a drastic increase in our rate of innovation effectiveness? I doubt it. Of course, we should not stop optimizing innovation. And at the same time we should be looking out for disruptive ways to increase effectiveness. My real insight how to create a surge in effectiveness came to me reading the biography of Steve Jobs. I was inspired again, by the famous words of the historical Apple campaign of 1997: Think Different.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Thinking differently should be a core competence of most of us managers, innovators and researchers. But why then have we not used this capacity to think of disruptive concepts to increase innovation effectiveness? I guess we have become too much part of the system itself. We are like fish, which are the last ones to discover they’re swimming in water.

So we should look for the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. They are the last ones to read Innovation Management or visit innovation conferences. They would hate them, probably! So we should be looking out for them. We should go beyond our borders ourselves. To observe and learn new insights, postponing our judgement. So go out there and find new innovation rebels in the style of George Best, Johan Cruyff, Paul Gascoigne, Eric Cantona or Maradonna, who will be great penalty kickers.

About the author:

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’.
  • Geovanny Romero

    Gijs The quality of your blogs always are very good and realistic. 

    The question is: In what stage of NPD is better apply the “think different”, in fuzzy front end (strategy, contact stakeholders, or concept definition)?



  • Gijs van Wulfen

    Thank you Geovanny,

    for your great compliment. In my opinion you should THINK DIFFERENT already in the strategy part and follow a think different track a along the innovation process until market introduction.Gijs

  • Janalleskan


    I feel the blood pumping. Yes we can,  while you see a chance , take it!
    My way of living is: Think different+ Act normal. 
    Be prepared that sometimes only one out of hundred is the big hit. But you get the fun because you did this 99 “mishits”= “rakeling”, and get financed by no. 100.
    I like your attacked  ”ridiculous “ thesis in this way:
    Always take 7 attemps at the same time. (8  is to much, 6 is to less.)
    With 7 in one time you have enough braincapacity to focus and the best opportunity for succes  certainly 1 out of 7.
    By the way in NedTrain’s  ideamanagement system we  find this rule : 1 out 3,5  ideas get implemented. So the reality is twice as good as this ridiculous theory.
    Jan Hoetmer

  • Gijs van Wulfen

    Great Jan. If reality is twice as good as this ridiculous theory, let’s innovate reality :-)

  • Clinton Bonner

    Feel strongly it’s more about how you fail, when you fail in the process and did you pay for failure or was that a consequence of succeeding? A penalty kick is almost as easy as a slam dunk for the skilled star. Innovation is incredibly difficult – actually bringing to market and creating value is very rare. I support your enthusiasm for “better” but think the discussion should shift to massively parallel innovation practices – I wouldn’t care if it was 1 in 100 IF I wasn’t millions deep per attempt and months and months down a road that will bare no fruit. 

  • Gijs van Wulfen


    Thanks for responding. Of course it is more about how you fail. 

    n a lot of organizations managers and collegues don’t give you the time to fail 6 times in a row is my own experience. 

    What I like to provoke though is making innovation as easy as a penalty kick. It all starts with saying and accepting it is abnormal that only 1 out of seven projects is a success. 

  • Paul

    Dear Gijs, interesting statement, but I cannot agree.  It is not because Cruyf and Maradonna (and more recently also Messi) play football at a divine level, that other people should not play football.  It is not because Steve Jobs has a “4 dimensional out of the box thinking” capability that no other people or enterprises should work on innovation.   The art of entrepreneurship is to stimulate your people and your customes to generate out of the box ideas, select the most appropriate ones (out of the box AND bringing value to the customer AND in line with your Open Growth Strategy) and then implement them.  In that reasoning, I am not surprised of your 1:7 ratio.   Although it may be a pity of the 6 which are NOT done, let us have much more attention to the ONE that had been implemented.    I wish you happy Xmas days! Paul van Droogenbroeck – servinno

  • Gijs van Wulfen

    Dear Paul,

    Thank you for your reply. Which I of course understand very well. Is one out of 7 bad or not? I notice among innovators total acceptance of this ‘rule of thumb’ which is already true for decades. What I try to do is to wake up everybody to shift our borders. Let’s be disruptive in making innovation much more effective than 1 out of 7, is the essence of my plea :-)

  • Carsten Damgaard

    A question I ask myself, is whether innovation processes like the ones Robert G. Cooper is proposing is actually the right thing when we after so many years with Stage-Gate only have succes with one of seven. Does the stage gate model promote the right ideas and does it provide us with a good framework for innovation processes? For me good innovation first and foremost steem from the company culture combined with a strategy to guide employee efforts. Only when that is in place it makes sense to implement the ‘right’ processes which must be formulated to support the company culture and strategy.

    Another aspect is that demanding a higher rate of succes such as one of three or one of five could result in even fewer radical innovations than today. The greater the demands we place on innovators succes rate the greater the risk that they will eliminate the radical innovations to minimize their own risk.  
    One part of the solution could be different objectives for different types of innovations such as a succes rate like one in three  incremental innovations and one out of seven radical innovations. 

    In addition, it could be relevant  to start measuring other types of value creation like the learning gained from the innovation projects. What if the true radical innovations all build on the learning from the six of seven failures?

  • Adrian Rivers

    I am sorry Gijs, but I think that the logic here is woolly.

    If you want to increase your chances of scoring a penalty, you need to practice practice practice. Here we are talking operational excellence, not disruptive excellence. Think “The Discipline of Market Leaders” or the 10,000 hours of practice discussed in “Outliers: The Story of Success”.

    If you want to reduce the *rate* of “failure” of new products, be safe, avoid the “crazy ones” like the plague.

    But if you want to find some of very small number of disruptive new products that change the landscape, then accept failure and learn from it, and adopt very disciplined processes that both encourage innovative ideas within a structured product development methodology.

    I think that what you have to realise is that you are quoting an Advertising Campaign designed by marketing people which aimed to differentiate Apple from “boring” Microsoft. I have to admit that I have not read Jobs’ biography, but did he really embrace “the misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.” within Apple?

  • Gijs van Wulfen

    Great comment Carsten! You are asking exactly the right questions. 
    - Without stage-gate would it be even better than 1 out of 7?
    - Would we reduce the number of radical innovations at a higher effectiveness rate?
    - Are the learnings of the failures essential to generate the radical ones?

    Of course I don’t have any ready answers for these questions. Asking the right questions is essential, to improve innovation effectiveness without fleeing into the easy solutions.

  • Gijs van Wulfen

    Dear Adrian,

    Thanks for your great comment. Of course there is a difference between taking penalties and disruptive innovations. You are absolutely right in this.

    My quest is to disruptively innovate the innovation approach in such away that the 1 out of 7 ration is drastically improved, without avoiding the crazy ones :-). The first step is putting it to discussion as I have now. 

    You should read the SJ bio. He was a misfit, rebel and troublemaker himself.

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  • Mark Proffitt

    Gijs, your article gets right to the heart of the matter and exposes the obvious truth that is being ignored.  A 1/7 success rate is pathetic. It also doesn’t have to be accepted.

    Predictive Innovation®  blows away the 1/7 “success” rate. In a study of 576 projects at 360 Fortune 500 companies who all used Staged-Gate processes,  the top 1/3 of product managers got 80-96% success with up to 95 times more profits. Those innovation super-stars were using principles of Predictive Innovation® and so can you.

    The first principle is anything that can be made or done can be described. Since you can describe it, you can also describe the ideal version, the one that does what you want, when you want, the way, you want, with whom you want, for the price you want with no hassle. 
    If you start from the ideal and step backwards to what is available today, each step is an innovation.  Some of those will be small innovations, some will be big disruptive innovations. That depends on the type of step being taken. Also there isn’t only a single path. There are many paths. Some paths are dead-ends and others lead all the way to the ideal.  Predictive Innovation® breaks down the idea space into 3 dimensions for any product or service. All problems have these same 3 dimensions. Using the fundamental dimensions shows there are 105 basic types of innovation for any problem. Most problems have approximately 7 required criteria.  That means the entire idea space is covered by approximately 735 types of well defined innovations.  

    This shows you both what to make and how to make it. Having a map of the entire idea space ensures you only work on good ideas and you don’t miss the best ideas because you can see the entire idea space for that product or service. You choose the best ideas for you to develop.  That also makes it easier to develop ideas because you know in advance what to develop so you have plenty of time to get it right.

    With the map of the entire idea space provided by Predictive Innovation®, you can use Staged-Gate or Agile/Scrum to produce the 6-Sigma results.

    You should consider incorporating Predictive Innovation® into your FORTH process. I’d be glad to work with you to help remove the fuzz from the front and back end of innovation.

  • Mark Proffitt

    I’ve work for Apple and Microsoft. Both now use parts of Predictive Innovation® to reliably produce disruptive new products without accepting failure.  

    It’s a myth that the only way to succeed is to learn from your mistakes. When you have a map of the entire idea space you can choose the ways that are easiest for you.  That eliminates the risk of a bad idea and reduces the risk of poor execution. Even if you mess that up you can easily move to the next best idea and stay ahead of the competition.

  • Mark Proffitt

    - Without stage-gate would it be even better than 1 out of 7?  The purpose of Staged-Gate is to manage risk. The source of that risk is using creativity to generate ideas. If you use a better system for ideas you can get 80-96% success rates.

    Would we reduce the number of radical innovations at a higher effectiveness rate? No, in fact you increase the number of radical innovations.  The way to increase the success rate is to know in advance which ideas are good and which are bad. You do that by mapping the entire idea space. This allows you to see all the innovations and choose the radical innovation when that is appropriate. Plus you can see connections between innovations so you can develop multiple innovations from a single core. This reduces risk and increases profits.

    Are the learnings of the failures essential to generate the radical ones? Absolutely not.  Failures don’t teach you what will succeed.  The way to succeed is to start by defining the criteria customers will use to judge your products. Then you describe the entire idea space. Then you pick the best approach for you at the time.  That is the formula for success.

  • Mark Proffitt

    Great insight Clinton. There are a several ways to get the effect of massively parallel innovations. One is Open Source, but that will require you to find a different business model and that innovation can’t be massively parallel.

    The other approach is to spend little to nothing on selecting ideas. This is exactly how the Top 1/3 of product managers get 80-96% success with up to 95 times more profits.

    The Top product managers first define the criteria customers will use to judge the products, then they map the idea space.  They only generate good ideas, those that match the customers’ criteria. Then they choose related ideas to form a family of products and services. This increases profits and reduces risks.

    I have a bunch of reports and videos on this if you are interested.


    I think the numbers are all wrong. There’s data out there (find it in previous articles in Time Magazine and such like) that suggests 10000 ideas lead to one successful, commercialized innovation. If only it was 1/7!

  • Dan

    It is easy said than done.

    The penalty kickers had the chance to develop their skills through their whole life up to the point on field with high effectiveness (high sucess rate). The “knowledge & experience” are all hard wired to one brain and one body (in time and space).

    In innovation processes, especially, engineering innovations, those involved (usually, a team of people) do not have the chance to develop that effectiveness at all. The “knowledge & experience” are vast and scattered and need a seriese of  processes (in time and space) to be gathered to produce a success. Most good ideas are over budgeted and over due  from the lack of concentrated “knoweledge & experience” (in time and space) and eventually are stopped by short term effect driven business decision making processes.

    On paper anything is possible.

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  • Hans Verstraeten

    Although SJ was a misfit, a rebel and troublemaker, according to this great biography there was little space left for others like him in his company… However, his biography is a must read for innovators!

  • Ahmed Mujtaba Khan

    Gijis really right one has to be crazy Innovative in thinking and acting on to it. You know silver fishes always live in the binding of books they never go through the pages so they are deprived of learning. It is something like you are a soccer player and you are at the bench. Thanks for your quality insight on innovation. If someone thinks hundreds of ideas to exploit and mark one as the success it is too costly to have your innovation optimized. Steve Jobs once said that “we are here to make a dent in this universe” and he did so. He has number of innovations to his name but hardly any numbers regarding his attempts means whenever he thought he did. Once I read somewhere “When it comes to getting things done we need more brick layers and few architects”.

  • Jeremy Williams

    Hello Gijs,
    came here from a LinkedIn link. Thought-provoking article. I see you’re in NL, I’m in B which is next door. Have to see if our paths can cross.
    First, the quote!
    reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one
    persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all
    progress depends on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw.

    Next, the first fallacy!
    “only one out of seven new product ideas is really a success in the market”. This does not imply that the product development process is not working, you might congratulate it for having stopped the useless expense early! Robert really ought to drop a bit the “guru” label – for a guru is infallible – and check his logic.

    Next, the second fallacy!
    Robert in “Winning with new products” is proposing a framework for success. You state immediately afterwards that of the fifteen other frameworks you have investigated, you don’t believe in any of them addressing the fundamental question of how to get more bang for the R+D buck. You don’t say that you believe in Robert’s framework any more than in these fifteen. Conclusion – the whole approach that anything can change the success rate is probably a mirage. I like this point as you express it, for it is also my experience: no recipe for success. A
    framework that I developed within a company that moved success rates per
    dollar from about one in ten to about one in three was tailored to that
    company. I’m working on a proposal for my current employer and it’s
    probably going to be different. Reading the fifteen frameworks gives ideas, but not a guaranteed no-fail recipe.

    Your point, therefore, is about success rates and conformity
    (“groupthink”? “reasonableness”? “risk-acceptance”?) as a barrier. This
    leaves the following questions open:

    1) is the average human as an individual capable of more success than one out of seven?

    2) is the average human as member of a responsible society able to
    accept more than one out of seven? Alternative formulation : is the
    committee process a hindrance? I would maintain a link between the
    eye-catching innovation we sometimes get and a “bet-the-company”
    mentality that may incur risks that are intolerable (you win – a hundred
    more jobs; you lose – a hundred less. Explain that to the families.) To drill down further, you could have stated that the appreciation of innnovation needs to be done on the right level. A top-level business case may not do it; the deciders may have to be lower down the tree and closer to the action.

    3) is the non-average, unreasonable person capable of better than one
    out of seven? The one massive, meteoric success tends to hide the
    smaller failures (ipad vs Newton); also the bad ideas may be nipped in
    the bud by an informal process (Bill Gates “This is the worst piece of
    programming I have ever seen!”). Geovanny’s point about timing – extended slightly -  is in my experience the difference between the correct application of breakthrough ideas and their abject failure – see ipad vs Newton again. And who now in our three-years-in-this-post-and then-you-move-on management culture can appreciate the maturing idea, remember the pitfalls of yesteryear, and understand the effect of advancing technology?

    Then again unreasonableness doesn’t apply in any way to penalties in football. When you have a penalty, the opportunity is staring you in the face – to run the parallel with new products, the market is screaming for your product, and the means of delivering it is clear. If you then put a totally unreasonable person in front of that, he will try and score with his head and will probably be dropped next game. If you want a sport example, try rugby. They were playing football when William Webb Ellis picked the ball up because he suddenly though that there was no point in submitting to the random nature of aiming a kick at the ball, and he carried it into the goal. “Is that a goal?” he is reported as saying. “No, but it’s a nice try!” came the answer, and so rugby was born.

    Celebrating unreasonableness? No, we don’t do that. We celebrate the success. The worship of the maverick is either rebellion – appreciating the Rolling Stones for taking drugs and trashing hotel suites (did that make them better musicians?) or Hollywood films like Top Gun (the protagonist kills his partner through a risky manoeuvre, but it’s all right in the end because he gets the girl). The real esteem is won by being successful. The team or company mentality supports this, as a (rugby) captain said some time ago: ” We have a team here and a structure to our play. You are supposed to be in that position and remain in that position. If you don’t, then you’d better score a try, and we will let you off transgressing the rules. If you don’t score that try, you’ll be dropped.”

  • Jeremy Williams

    Can you be more specific about the origin of these figures?


  • Willem Bellemakers

    Hello Gijs,

    This is a very true story.
    It stays very difficult to chance people’s behaviour in (sleepy and) established company cultures.

    Therefor we tried it in another way.  
    We started the Spinc project (see  in order to create awareness in the management team (board) in order to chance their strategic behaviour. In a creative process we show how  to re-use existing and proven technology/services and transfer them into new market areas. Together with a search for partners in an open business model. 
    -additional revenues in other markets (market areas) 
    -no new R&D and Market investments needed, only upgrading
    -involving “knowledge” partners” lowers the business risks and accelerates time to market
    -a succesrate of more than 50% 

    If anyone wants/needs more information about this innovative process, please contact me.

    Willem Bellemakers
    Business Architect

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