Point 2: Innovation Yields Differentiation

A second aspect of the methods is that they are not for mass produc­tion. Thinking again of the CAD example, a tour through Houston suburbs shows that houses can be mass-produced, through replica­tion and permutation of components. But innovation is sorely lacking. The Houston suburb is no Bilbao.

It isn’t the fact that these methods are difficult to understand that prevents mass production. Even complex mathematical equations can be reduced to a “For Dummies” framework; they can be simpli­fied to the point-and-click of software, and any competitor in any country can then adopt that method. Methods for innovation have a nice advantage over those that can be mass-produced, because they require smart people. They are not “For Dummies.” If you are that smart person, your job stays with you. Your job cannot be coded into software that ships throughout the world to legions of replacements for you. If your company has a process for innovation, a greenhouse for organic growth, your innovations become competitive advantages, not commodities that spread quickly to imitators worldwide.

Point 3: Don’t Stop at Success

A third aspect of the methods is that they should be part of a larger process, an incubator to grow ongoing innovations. Innovation is risky; the failure rate is high. Consider for a moment an industry that makes a business of risk: casinos. The big money of the speculative world comes from a system of speculations, not a single gamble. The “house” may lose any gamble—it never knows which ones will pay off and which will not. But the odds are in its favor, so repetition yields its lucre. Although the statistics on new product success rates reveal low winning probabilities, the lesson is the same—that repetition is impor­tant. With innovation, any particular project may fail dismally. It is rep­etition of the process that yields the payoff. You can, however, slant the odds in your favor; you can beat the house odds in the introduction of new products if you have the right tools and methods and diligently follow them. Certainly don’t stop at success—keep the greenhouse intact in order to keep growing new ideas.

Many innovative companies do put mechanisms in place to con­stantly feed the innovation cycle. Lubrizol, a company that develops “fluid technologies for a better world” that we discuss later in this book, has a process by which every year two new technologies are developed into product possibilities. In the first chapter, Chuck Jones talked about a constant stream of product ideas that are in the pipeline at Whirlpool. Other companies support advanced R&D to develop new areas of growth. New Balance, also discussed in this book, has a strong advanced product group that constantly seeks not only new product opportunities, but also new approaches to deter­mining those opportunities. Still other companies create divisions to support new growth. For example, Respironics, a maker of sleep apnea and support products, formed a division for “sleep onset” to recognize the emerging technologies and growing demand for prod­ucts to help people sleep and sleep better.

Point 4: Motivation Needed

Finally, the methods for innovation are not a step-by-step guarantee for success, unlike the promise of the “For Dummies” series. In the hands of an unmotivated employee, the methods yield no benefit. As

an illustration, compare Kate and Susan. Kate has the entrepreneur­ial spirit, that inward drive to maximize the possibilities around her. In college, she took pride in her work (for most classes, at least). For instance, for her case study analyses in marketing class, she read more on the company than what was presented in the preprinted case study. she put herself into the role of the decision maker, researched competitor companies and their strategies, and took the time to think seriously about the actual and potential customers of each company.

susan also was diligent and hard-working in school, but her goal was mainly to get an A on each project. in her marketing class, she made sure to discuss each of marketing’s “four Ps” (price, product, place of distribution, and promotion). Her motivation was external—to fulfill the letter of the law, to get the letter grade. For Susan, the instructions did the work for her; she basically filled in the blanks, and she got her A.

Both Kate and Susan have found jobs in which they are success­ful, but only Kate would be successful with the methods for innova­tion. Susan’s approach to work is to fill in the blanks of a “For Dummies” process; Kate’s approach is to use the process to gain deep­er insights. The world of innovation is all about deeper insights. There is no forward and upward movement when the blanks are just filled in.

The innovators’ methods that we describe are best practices, used by the successful innovating companies. They are like CAD for the architect, a framework and set of tools to improve innovation. They are insufficient by themselves for successful innovation, because they require the motivation like that of entrepreneurs, like that of Kate. The methods just become more paperwork for the Susans of the world, but the same methods allow the Kates to be ingenious, to make an impact, and to stand out from the fray. overall, these meth­ods serve as the early stages of product research, a repeatable process to find and develop successful innovative products.


Updated: September 30, 2015 — 10:19 am