Ideation Is Not Innovation

One of the common myths that misleads the ideation process is that the innovation process begins with an idea. We believe that an idea is in actual fact the output of the innovation process, not the starting point.

Making ideation the starting point of the innovation process, although common, turns innovation into a guessing game. It is the most inefficient approach to innovation and the root cause of low innovation success rates.

Why? Because it is nearly impossible to have a big idea before knowing about the consumer – the jobs-to-be-done, gaps with current offers, unmet needs and even new, emerging needs that the idea has to address. These are the inputs needed for successful birth and development of ideas. The chances that any random idea will satisfactorily address all these factors are miniscule.

We are not saying the generation of ideas is a bad thing – far from it.

However, the most common failure of ideation sessions is not that they don’t generate ideas; it’s that they generate the wrong ideas. 

A funnel of the process stages that ideas go through before they launch

Many companies equate innovation with idea management. They have ideation sessions that result in lots of ideas that must be catalogued, filtered, assessed, and acted upon. The thinking goes something like this: “The more ideas we have, the greater our chances are that one of them will be a big idea. Our goal, then, is to fail fast; that is, to filter out all the bad ideas as quickly as possible so the big ideas will surface.”

Companies that use the fail-fast model are trying to figure out which of the hundreds of ideas they have generated significantly address their customers’ unmet needs in attractive markets. But in nearly all companies, managers don’t even agree on what a customer need is, let alone all the unmet needs in the markets the ideas are addressing. So how can they effectively determine which ideas to pursue? They can’t. And this is the problem.

As a result, companies pursue, develop, and refine ideas they find intuitively appealing, and along the way they try to figure out if those ideas address unmet needs in attractive markets. In the end, they find that most ideas do not. This approach wastes time, money, and resources.

You don’t brainstorm innovations; you construct them; ideally with the people who will buy them – your consumers.

Our approach to ideation is built around firstly having deep consumer insight from which to ideate some raw ideas from. Knowing all the consumers’ needs, and which are unmet, in advance of the ideation session gives us a much better chance of brainstorming some more focused raw ideas that can then be further built, refined and ultimately validated with consumers in the next phase of development.

Having consumer insight before ideating, and continuing to gather it as you go through the innovation process is the key to successful innovation, and the only factor that can eliminate the guesswork that regularly goes on.

Published 28th March 2013 by Natalie Reed @ the Strategy Distillery