Welcome to the ten biggest innovation mistakes you can make countdown. In this podcast I count down from the tenth biggest mistake you can make on innovation to the number one mistake you can make. While every item on this ten biggest innovation mistakes list has the potential to seriously impair or derail an innovation program, it is purely my experience that produces the rankings.
My purpose in sharing this list is to bring focus to some of the things that are really important for successful innovation.
So let’s start the countdown. The tenth most serious innovation mistake you can make is to not have the right innovation process.
This can be a very serious mistake that cripples your innovation program on day one. I put this on the list because I’ve seen so many people try to wing it when it comes to innovation. The conversation goes something like this. “We’ll get a few people together, get some pizza and beer, brainstorm and will have the ideas that we need. Then I will take the lead to figure out which ideas we want to pursue and ask if you want to help out here and there. So, let’s get started. When do you want me to have the pizza and beer here for the meeting?”
Now you may think this is an exaggeration. Unfortunately it is not.
I also find some larger and medium-size businesses try to figure out the next step in the innovation process immediately before it needs to be done. Their argument is that they don’t know what process is needed until they know what the idea is. It’s true you do not know the specific research questions that need to be asked. It’s not true that you can just improvise and be spontaneous as you go and expect success. The best process in most cases is some version of a stage gate process that I’ve talked about in a previous podcast. It’s not a one-size-fits-all in terms of the details, but the principles of this process are well-established.
Next, the ninth most serious innovation mistake that you can make is to use flawed research.
So many times when I work with companies, I hear something like, “the research concluded” and they share this major insight that is guiding their entire innovation program. Upon closer examination, I find all too many times that the research asked the wrong people the wrong questions. And these are just some of the potential major flaws that can be in research.
The other major flaw that people make all too frequent use of focus groups as decision-making research. Focus groups are never, never to be used to make even semi-important project decisions. The people in the focus group are not representative of any particular group of customers. A representative group requires at least about fifty people and more often about 100 people in a demographically and even geographically balanced way.
To avoid this mistake, always use a highly experienced and skilled professional researcher. For example, on the Innovate2Grow Experts team at i2ge.com we have two exceptional researchers because we deeply understand the importance of quality research can make in producing successful innovation.
Next, the eighth most serious innovation mistake you can make is to not have the right decision-makers involved in the innovation process.
So often I see one decision-maker often a senior executive or company owner as the key decision-maker. It is not wrong that they are involved in the decision-making process, but it is a mistake to have them be the only one. I have found that when it comes to innovation, people in these positions can often rely far too much on their past experience in making decisions. Innovation by definition is creating new and future experiences. In a rapidly changing world relying on the past experiences of only one person is a risky venture indeed.
I am a big believer in innovation as a team effort. A highly effective, empowered team creates a forum for a high-quality exchange of thinking, skills and experiences. Just as there is strength in having diversity in the idea generating process upfront, there is great value in having diversity throughout the process and especially the decision-making process. Who the right people are on this team is going to vary from project to project and company to company. It certainly needs to include the project champion that can come from a wide variety of levels and functions within the company. It then needs to include the right people from the functions critical to success. It can be people from sales, marketing, R&D, research, and supply chain. More important than from where they are, is their passion and engagement with the project and hopefully a track record of innovation success.
Next, the seventh most serious innovation mistake is making decisions too late.
Each step in the development process of an innovative idea involves increasing complexity and cost. There are risks to getting too far down the innovation process when you discover fundamental flaws that could of been detected in the very early days of the project. The problem with discovering mistakes too far down the road is that too many commitments and promises have been made. This makes it very difficult for key decision-makers to abruptly change course. The inclination is to want to fix fundamental flaws and continue moving forward. Too often this is fools gold.
Autopsies of failed innovations often reveal that the reason for the failure was well known fairly early on in the project. Because egos and careers became tightly intertwined with project success, management did not have the courage to kill the idea when they knew of its serious flaws.
The solution to this is to have a very rigorous well-thought-out stage gate development process. At each gate, the criteria for moving forward to the next stage needs to be rigorous, well-thought-out, and broadly agreed to. This is the single best antidote to this innovation mistake.
Next, the sixth is making decisions too early. Yes, serious mistakes can be made early on just as they can further down the road.
The biggest mistake that happens in making decisions to early is to kill ideas before you know enough about them. I have been in the room when ideas of been killed for reasons that never had much substance behind them. They were the personal opinions of a very few people and others did not want to stand up for an idea that was still at the embryo stage.
Again, the solution to this problem is having a rigorous stage gate process. When Innovate2Grow Experts at i2ge.com leads a project, we include a very diverse and highly skilled group of people in a series of voting sessions to identify the ideas with the most promise. This goes through several levels before reaching a group of ideas that clearly stands out versus the balance of the rest of the ideas. Then we use Merwyn technology as quantitative research to quickly sort out those ideas with the greatest chances for success. Personal judgment of a skilled, experienced group helps evaluate these research results to identify the next, smaller level of ideas to be developed. The key to all of this is having the right diverse, highly talented people involved in decision-making and decisions being made with the aid of the right kind of research.
Next, the fifth most serious innovation mistake is having weak or no reason to believe your benefit claims made to potential customers.
This is a mistake that can be made at virtually every stage of the process where research is used to evaluate the strength of an idea. Most people think the potential customer communication focus needs to be on how their innovation benefits a target group of people. Yes, this is important.
Unfortunately, too many people forget that innovation is something new or very new that customers have not seen before. There’s even a benefit promise that is not been able to be made before. When this kind of benefit communication is made without giving people a reason to believe that you can actually do what you’re promising, the air goes out of the balloon and persuasiveness drops precipitously.
Let me give you an extreme example to make the case. If I were to walk up to you and tell you that I have a cure for cancer, you would probably be very interested but highly skeptical. That claim would mean almost nothing unless I gave you an exceptionally powerful and credible reason to believe I could actually do what I just promised. So a benefit promise without a credible reason to believe taps into only a small percentage of your potential persuasiveness – this can end up in a innovation failure.
Next, the fourth biggest innovation mistake is not knowing your customers well enough.
Starting an innovation program by not knowing your customers well enough is like embarking on a journey into entirely new geography without a map and compass. Even if you get to your destination, it’s going to be an arduous, painful and highly inefficient process.
The antidote to preventing this mistake is a professional research program at each stage of the process that asks the right people the right questions. As I’ve mentioned in a previous podcast on research, research is not the final, final answer but it is a guide to judgment with the right decision-makers. Without the voice of the consumer helping to guide you each step of the way, the opportunity for major mistakes is very high.
Next, the third biggest innovation mistake is communicating features and weak benefits versus persuasive benefits.
Innovative new products and services tend to have some never before seen benefits. Customer communication becomes critical to your success. Customers want to know what’s in it for them – what do I get if I pay you for this product?
In an earlier podcast, I shared the example of a major car manufacturer communicating “advanced stabilization control.” No one goes out to buy a car with this feature. They do go out to buy a car that has advanced technology like advanced stabilization control that delivers the benefit of a 40% reduction in rollover risk.
If you say that your innovative product has more of something, that is weak benefit communication since consumers don’t know how much more. Research suggests that they will assume a rather small benefit improvement. You significantly increase the persuasiveness of your customer communication when you tell them that it has 55% more of the major benefit they are looking for.
The reason that this is such a serious mistake is that you can do absolutely everything right up until the time that you communicate your innovation to potential customers only to use weak communication that does not allow customers to fully understand the wonderful benefits they can get. The result is disappointing sales and often failure because of this one step.
Next, the second biggest innovation mistake you can make is not having a vision of success or having the wrong vision of success.
You absolutely need to start your innovation process with a very, very well thought out process to identify what you want the end result to be. It’s the old advice of begin with the end in mind.
An earlier podcast did a deep dive into this subject so I’m not going to reiterate the key points. I will add that when the process of creating a vision of success is done right, it can inspire and guide years and even decades of future work. It is that potentially powerful.
Next, the single biggest innovation mistake you can make is not having enough difference to persuade competitive customers to switch to your product. If the difference is not big enough then customers do not switch. When customers do not switch, you’ve invested a lot of money, but get no new customers, and probably have a significant project loss on your hands.
As you know from listening to these podcasts, I beat the drum of it takes a dramatic difference, a dramatic improvement in important customer benefits to get competitive customers to switch to your product. There is two key points here. First, the difference needs to be dramatic to get their attention. Second, the difference needs to be in a benefit area that is crucial to how they make decisions about which product to buy. Have a dramatic difference on the seventh most important customer benefit, and you will have a failure on your hands even though you have a dramatic difference.
Never lose sight of this.
I hope this has been both informative and helpful. I have had a fun putting this together. Seriously, keep this checklist as mistakes you will not make in your innovation program.