A Process for Pragmatic Innovation

The natural question, then, is how to innovate. As Peter Drucker and others have written before, innovation is not serendipity but the out­come of disciplined activity. What is the nature of that disciplined activity? What kinds of procedures can be adopted that can and will yield good ideas when so many decisions must be made—too many to answer via experimentation?

In his book The Sciences of the Artificial,[4] economics Nobel Laureate Herb Simon describes the science of design. He recognizes that “exact solutions to the larger optimization problems of the real world are simply not within reach or sight. In the face of this com­plexity the real-world business firm turns to procedures that find good enough answers to questions whose best answers are unknow­able.” Simon invented the word satisficing to describe this situation, in which a person “accepts ‘good enough’ alternatives not because he prefers less to more but because he has no choice.” Product innova­tion is not about optimizing but satisficing.

The procedures he suggests are to set goals and make decisions relative to those goals. Rather than the impossible task of optimiza­tion, in which one would ask, “of all possible worlds, which is the best?,” the question in innovation is, “Does this alternative satisfy all the design criteria in a preferred way?” A challenge for satisficing in innovation, then, is to define the criteria for success.

Akin to the philosophy of Herb simon, we will articulate a sequence of steps and procedures for the earliest stages of innovation that the best innovators seem to follow. This early part of the product development process is often called the “fuzzy front end” because it is counter to the precise facts known about the product in the later stages, where the product is detailed for production. in brief, the early tasks set up the criteria, not from irrefutable fact but from insights based on user observation, and the later tasks create product alternatives that meet those criteria. This process is equally useful in designing products as well as services. We highlight these procedures here, we discuss many aspects of them throughout this book, and we illustrate the details of this sequence of steps in the process in Chapter 9, “A Process for Product Innovation.”