Although preceding chapters in this book each contain their own examples of people, products, companies, and issues, each chapter’s illustrations focus on specific topics—the individual oaks, hickories, pines, and dogwoods of the forest. This chapter provides an overview of the innovation forest itself using an example from an R&D relationship between a university and the athletic apparel company New Balance. We describe a process for structuring the early “fuzzy front end” of product development from opportunity to product approval, showing how innovators implement the process and tools we describe in earlier chapters.
Sedona, AZ. “This really is God’s country,” thought Karen Anderson, her feet pounding the red packed trails, as Bono sang the words on her iPod. U2 had probably never even visited Sedona. The red rocks jutted out into large cathedral peaks. The trees sent out a rich evergreen scent. And the air was dry and clean and hot!
Next week was the race, and this was Karen’s weekly Saturday trip from Phoenix out to Sedona to train. On-site training gave her an extra thrill; that alone was worth the two-hour drive. Plus, she could indulge in her ritual post-training recovery stop for an energy – enhanced cherry papaya smoothie.
Karen remembered running as a kid. She had started running in middle school, on Cocopah’s cross-country team. Practices were early morning, before school. She remembered how she often felt shaky after runs, after pounding the roads. She wondered whether the early runs were to blame for her poor concentration in her first class of the day, history. She had always needed recovery time, time to sit and drink a smoothie, although smoothies did not exist back then.
How things had changed. The Phoenix area was nothing like what it was in 1965, the year her school had opened. Back then, for instance, Cocopah Middle School was the northern outpost of the Scottsdale school district, located next to Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley. Now, when Karen’s kids are attending Cocopah, it is the geographic center of the school district.
Not only was life changing, but products were, too. Karen’s new running shoes, for instance, were great. The guy at the New Balance store was right. Karen wondered how a company can make changes— and, in this case, improvements—to a product again and again. She always bought New Balance running shoes. She had tried others, but there really was none better.
The consistent ankle support and the improved cushioning seemed to relieve the pain as she ran. At the age of 44, she had thought her running days were over, but her switch to New Balance gave her running career new life. She enjoyed weekend 10Ks, and she enjoyed escaping from the routine of her week. She realized that for all the wear and effort she put her body through, it was, really, the shoes that allowed her to keep going.