You've seen this movie: You are involved in an amazing new product-development program. Since you're one of the brilliant ones, you are brought in early—top of the funnel.
You and the team deliver. You uncover a huge insight and hole in the marketplace that somehow your competitors have missed. The insight is so clear, the gap so big, that immediately product ideas to meet it begin to flow. You can even picture how this new product or service will look.
Your work is done. You leave the project glowing with pride.
Flash forward 12 months. You are sitting in a pipeline meeting where the new round of innovations to be launched are being presented. Your idea is presented, only it is not presented. It barely resembles the idea you helped conceive. What has happened to your beautiful baby?
What are we doing to our children?
Spend enough time around innovation and you become aware of a startling analogy: Ideas are just like children. Ideas need a loving set of parents to conceive them, encourage them, challenge them, and protect them until they are ready to stand on their own. Good parenting will produce ideas—born as simple insights—that literally change the world. The problem is, as a rule, we as corporate executives/parents abandon our nurturing role too early. And just like in any family (or company), once the core set of parents is gone, the child/insight suffers.
give innovation plenty of power The abandonment isn't deliberate—just a remnant of the way things used to be done. Despite all the talk about wanting to create "flat organizations," companies still have the bad habit of creating silos when it comes to research, marketing, research and development, and sales. This habit extends to outside partners who service these divisions.
As a result, insights are passed from vendor to vendor, from department to department (from step-parent to step-parent to continue our analogy) and are influenced and modified along the way.
Thus, by the time your idea hits the market, it has been changed so much by so many people that your customer or consumer can no longer recognize the great insight they once gave you.
The solution? The best companies establish a small, core innovation team—made up of all the key departments necessary to take a product from idea to marketplace (so yes, finance and manufacturing people are on the team)—that stays with the insight all the way from discovery to launch, both internally and externally.
This team approach works for three reasons: It is small; it is focused, and it is empowered. The leadership of the company has created clear objectives, such as:
You will bring us three ideas that we can launch in 12 months.
These ideas can be a product, service, or business model as long as they deliver the incremental dollars.
These ideas will live under brand X.
Each idea will deliver $X million in incremental dollars.
The team is powerful: It has a budget, complete authority to make the project happen, and unlimited access to any part of the organization—including the executive leadership team. Note that while this type of parenting team may resemble internal teams that have lived in your organization in the past, those teams most likely were not given the direction and lacked the authority of the ones outlined above. Most importantly, they probably were disbanded long before the idea hit the market.
While turning an idea over to a step-parent gets less dangerous the closer you get to launch, having the original parents in place all the way to market ensures that the insight lives in the idea as well as the business, marketing, and sales strategies.
As parents, we imagine our children some day walking down the aisle. We will have been there for them every step of the way. We will have done everything that we could to encourage, protect, and challenge them to be the best they could be. And when they are successful, we'll know that we've had more than a little to do with it.
Ideas are just like our kids. They deserve good parenting.