Navigating the cloudy front end of innovation

Organizations commonly hit a wall at the “fuzzy" or "cloudy front end” of innovation, where the view of the Next Big Thing is blocked by uncertainty and doubt over where to begin. This can be overcome, but it takes a carefully crafted process of Discovery to cut through the cloudiness.

Before answering “Where do I begin with innovation,” consider asking yourself: “Where do I end? What is the goal of my innovation effort?” These early, “fuzzy” first stages help seed the insights and opportunities that will become innovations, but without an end goal in mind your organization risks wasting effort on ideas that go nowhere because they’re not tied to any business value. Defining goals early, before the Discovery process begins, helps align every stage of the innovation process toward a measurable outcome.

Innovation maturity roadmapping helps organizations chart that desirable end-state. It is a highly effective way to make innovation real in global organizations because it clarifies what you’re developing and why you’re pursuing it. An innovation maturity roadmap is a mixture of forecasting and current-state evaluation that helps organizations examine their innovation competence and then develop a game plan around improving it.

Mature innovation organizations implement the fuzzy front end into their planning strategy. During this period of ambiguity and uncertainty, organizations may set aside time to create, clarify, and recognize opportunities. An end-to-end innovation process “is important, because ultimately innovation’s success is not just idea generation,” says Patrick Sullivan, chief architect at Chubb Insurance.

Roadmapping is similar to the New Concept Development Model developed by Peter Koen, in that it flows out from the leadership, culture, and business strategy of the organization.

As innovation expert Bill Hessler says, “If you want to come up with 10 or 20 ideas for your company, you need a structured approach that thoroughly scans the range of possible solutions from many different domains.”

Once the end goal is defined, an innovation team can seek opportunities around which they can collect specific ideas and build on them. These opportunities may identify customer needs, collect insights, explore white space, and challenge assumptions.

A successful Discovery exercise depends on concepts that identify project goals and outcomes and ultimately line up with business goals. This exercise should assemble relevant bits of knowledge and surface meanings from them. For example, Imaginatik’s Discovery Central platform helps take hunches and clues about a business’ operations and turn them into opportunities by reforming and recasting the information.

Imaginatik’s experience shows that innovation capability matures across a continuum over time. As organizations gain innovation experience, they become better at navigating change, estimating required resources, and navigating the murky front end of innovation.

In these more mature organizations, innovation is not a part of the business strategy. It is the business strategy.

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