by Jesse Burns

The Challenge

Few moments are more energizing than the moment of creating a new initiative. Spirits are high, resources are marshaled, and the “new innovation” effort is poised to take the next step. Yet, moving from the whiteboard to reality is challenging.

As the leader accountable for innovation, you know that generating ideas is not the hard part. Doing something with them is. And you are not alone. Sixty-four percent of organizations say implementing ideas was the biggest risk to ideation programs.1 You are also facing the reality that your company, like 60 percent of other organizations, is likely going to take a year or longer to create a new product,2 let alone a new business model.

As the saying goes, “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” In day-to-day business, you’d have information to help make decisions about pursuing entrepreneurial ideas. However, leaders of innovative initiatives inhabit a world where information is lacking, expectations are high, and the pressure to move forward is strong.

Point B’s Perspective

We believe the best way to implement innovative ideas is by using adaptive methods and mindsets. These are processes designed to help you learn about the problem while simultaneously testing solutions. We see three adaptive methods that successful innovation initiatives embody.

1. Start with the goal — the “why” — in mind

One recent client, a global products company, had generated over 40 promising ideas during an innovation brainstorming sprint. Although each idea was interesting on its own, there was no coherence about where they were taking the organization collectively. The innovation team wanted to focus solely on generating ideas, handing implementation off to other teams. Predictably, this led to the ideas’ demise. By losing sight of the end goal, the innovation team was unable to clearly articulate why the new ideas were valuable.

Rather than optimizing hand-offs, we worked with the client to continuously document and refine the fundamental “why” for each idea. This pivoted the internal conversation from the tactical (features and refinements) to the strategic (what the end goal was). Focusing on the “why” early and often enabled the team to successfully secure funding for its ideas, align stakeholders and launch new initiatives.

2. Test to learn, not to launch

Confirmation bias is common in testing. Whether in the scientific arena or in business practices, it’s easy to inadvertently skew your test to prove your hunch right. We often see clients run tests that, by design, prove their idea is going to be successful. We call this “testing to launch.”

To avoid this tendency, we advise clients to simplify their tests to answer three questions:

  • What is the hypotheses you are testing, and how will this impact decisions you make?
  • What can you learn from the test?
  • What is your next step, after testing, to realizing impact?

The best organizations ruthlessly reduce the scope of each test so it’s fast and actionable. They also exhibit an atypical mindset: They look for reasons their idea won’t be successful until they can’t find any more. Successful innovators seek the flaws in their products before the market finds them.

In our recent work with a private research and development organization, we developed a custom- testing process to accelerate the market introduction of products. As we coached our clients on the process of testing to learn, they realized the true benefit of testing: improving the cross-functional teams’ ability to work together to define and test concepts.

3. Ignore culture at your own peril

Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” For all of the talk about unleashing corporate entrepreneurs, the realization of new ideas ultimately hinges on cultural alignment. This includes leaders supporting entrepreneurs, incentives driving desired behaviors, risk tolerance, and comfort with failure.

The organizations that most successfully launch innovative new products are realistic about their capabilities and culture. An organization that makes decisions in a top-down fashion will have a different testing process and culture – perhaps a more structured and rigid one – than one that operates on consensus.

During a recent engagement, a client shared frustration about how their team had tried for years to use a “test to learn” approach, with limited success. We helped this client think beyond testing to evaluating their cultural alignment.

We realized some key behaviors needed to change. Senior leaders needed to model support for their teams’ work more consistently. Cross-functional teams needed to develop shared objectives and goals. And behaviors among team members on how they collaborate and sort out differences needed to be normalized.

The client implemented these changes and created a learning environment to test ideas using adaptive methods, backed by leadership support. Furthermore, this process served as a model for other parts of the organization engaging in innovation.

The Bottom Line

There is no silver bullet for harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit and converting it to action. You need to start with the end in mind, test to learn, and align to organizational culture. The only moment that rivals the excitement of creating a brilliant idea is the one when your idea successfully lands in the market.

This insight piece is part of a series of papers on disruptive innovation. Learn more about Point B's perspective on how to organize for disruptive innovation and how unleash the entrepreneurial energy within

1. Spigit – The 2017 Business Innovation Report
2. CB Insights – State of Innovation