How To Innovate The Expedition Way

Innovation is essential. But it is difficult and risky. Inspired by great explorers like Columbus, Magellan, Amundsen, Hillary and Armstrong a method for ideating new concepts was developed, designed as an expedition.

The life cycle of products decreased by factor 4 the last fifty years. Innovation is essential. But it is difficult, risky and it demands a lot of resources. A lot of mistakes are made over and over again at the start of innovation in organizations, like:

  • Start without business need;
  • Start appointing an innovator;
  • Start with one idea;
  • Start with a brainstorm;
  • Start neglecting customers.

Inspired by great explorers like Columbus, Magellan, Amundsen, Hillary and Armstrong I developed a method for ideating new concepts. It’s designed as an expedition. Your innovation team will realize a concrete innovation mission and bring back 3 to 5 mini new business cases for innovative concepts. Going on an expedition means you’ll stop racing down your ‘business-as-usual-highways’ where you see the same familiar things. You’ll explore and visit new sources of inspiration that draw you out of your comfort zone and enlarge your world, making you ready to create new and wonderful concepts.

The urgency of Magellan, the meticulous planning of Amundsen, the focus of the Apollo program, the courage of Columbus and the teamwork of Hillary’s conquest of Mount Everest are all part of it. The method has the characteristics of a real expedition, mixed with best practices of both creative and business thinking and is -fittingly- designed as a map. Having a map to consult is tangible proof of preparedness. And a large-scale map on the wall with a planned route inspires the crew with all the confidence it needs. Enough even to sail off the map like Columbus did…..

The innovation method for the ideation phase is called FORTH – an acronym found in the first letter of each of the 5 steps: Full Steam Ahead, Observe & Learn, Raise Ideas, Test Ideas and Homecoming. FORTH was developed in practice and is used successfully in both B2B and B2C markets and by non-profit organizations. The method is part of my new book: The Innovation Expedition.

During the first step, Full Steam Ahead, you immediately choose the innovation focus. Here you choose your destination and draft an innovation assignment. During the second step, Observe & Learn, you discover and understand what the potential target group considers to be important and what they struggle with the most. Furthermore, this step also includes an important condition necessary for generating new ideas: a period of incubation – in other words time to allow ideas to hatch. You will be consciously tackling your assignment as well as subconsciously. Sometimes an idea will enter your mind when you least expect it: in the shower, while on holiday or out jogging. The acquisition of insight into customers’ needs and the opportunities available, as well as ‘outside-in’ thinking lays down the groundwork necessary for step three: an effective, creative process in Raise Ideas. Ideas are generated, evaluated and developed into concrete concepts. The last two steps of the expedition concern testing the appeal of the concepts and building support. During step 4, Test Ideas, the newly developed concepts are tested among the potential target group. In the final step, step 5 – Homecoming, the most promising concepts are worked out as mini new business cases and presented to the members of senior management, who have been anxiously waiting in anticipation for the unveiling of the expedition’s homecoming.

After FORTH, concepts are ready to be developed in your regular R&D or business development processes.

Ps. You can download free the maps and 20 checklists of the FORTH method here

By Gijs van Wulfen

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. His latest book is “The Innovation Expedition: a visual toolkit to start innovation”. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organizations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method.

Gijs is a key-note speaker at international innovation conferences, chosen by Linkedin as one of their 150 Thought Leaders and the #2 in the Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2012.

Photo: hiker silhouette from shutterstock.com

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