Innovation’s “three parents”

Here’s an interesting article I saw in Business Week some time ago, but the content still poses intriguing questions for innovators today: Does innovation need a parent or two? Or three?  Notice that innovation teams are working through three stages of innovation. I would agree that this type of idea parenting needs to be a part of each of the three processes in order to inspire a customer to say, “Finally, someone listened!”  Read on:

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As you will remember, we are big fans of idea parenting.

We believe the people who come up with a clever innovation idea should be the ones to shepherd it through the entire execution process and help introduce it into the marketplace. That way, the insight won’t get diluted along the way and we can make sure that the new product, service, or business model gets all the loving support it needs during development.

And we are also big believers in drawing the left and right brains of the organization. Some people are better at coming up with ideas (right brainers), and others are better at the implementation (left brainers). So it makes sense to involve everyone to make sure all the bases are covered.

Combining the two ideas, here’s where we come out: It is important to have an idea parent involved at each stage of the innovation process.

Expert Parents

To review a bit, we know that innovation occurs when: 1) There is a significant need or insight. 2) A product, service, or business model meets that need. 3) There is clear communication that connects No.1 to No.2.

From our experience, we know it is absolutely critical to create an innovation team with a “parent” for each of these three elements. These expert parents need to be deeply involved throughout the process.

Specifically, you need an insight parent whose “job” it is to make sure that the clarity of the insight she has found does not get blurred as the innovation process moves forward. You don’t have a good insight parent if:

• The team can’t answer precisely the problem they are trying to solve.

• Your customers don’t agree that your idea precisely meets their needs.

• Your insight does not remain focused on one core target that meets key criteria, e.g., a market that is growing, profitable, and open to your brand.

• You continually engage in more and more research and your instincts tell you that it is a “CYA” (cover your ass) exercise or you feel caught in analysis paralysis.

• Your concepts address multiple needs equally rather than doing a superlative job of addressing one specific problem.

An idea parent fully understands the need that the team is trying to fill and pushes for the most compelling, inventive, and appropriate new product, service, or business model to meet the need. The best idea parents know how to expand the boundaries of the idea while staying completely focused on the customer’s need.

You don’t have a good idea parent if:

• You are only producing safe, evolutionary ideas.

• The insight parent says the ideas you are producing are off base.

• The ideas don’t meet the criteria set by the leadership team.

• You are not scared by at least some of the ideas.

• You are producing too few ideas.

Parents are responsible for making sure the communication links the insight and the idea. Remember, a great idea poorly communicated is as effective as a bad idea brilliantly communicated—i.e., not very.

You don’t have a good communication parent if:

• You are not squarely speaking to the target about the identified insight.

• You are using language the consumer would not use or recognize.

• The other parents are disappointed with the less-than-evocative execution of the messaging.

The clear sign that you have a good communication parent is when your customer says “Finally someone listened to me.” It’s important to note here that there are very few renaissance people who can be a solid insight, idea, and communication parent. This is a marriage of varied skill sets and passions, where the right brain complements the left brain and the true respect of different experiences and expertise really matters. So don’t be surprised if you need three different parents to make sure your best ideas remain your best ideas as you move from idea to launch.

It’s usually easy to identify the maverick innovator in an organization, but when you dig deeper, you’ll find there’s always a doting parent (or three) responsible for the insight, the idea, and the communication. They may not get the glory, but like the best parents everywhere, they are very proud of the end result.

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