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Innovation funnels: learning from marketing

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You don’t have to be right all the time. . .

As a youngster, I joined an HR department as resident psychologist & systems manager.  In my first week there, the entire department was summoned by the CEO who had been away at long course at Harvard.  We got a royal bollocking, which as I was new, I could listen to quite dispassionately!

Apart from specifics, such as not controlling the headcount (“We’ve grown like Topsy!”), he had a lot to say about efficiency of delivery.  First, he has unimpressed by the absence of Plan B (flying off to give a presentation the same day rather than the night before).  Second, he wanted to hear an end to whinging.  “You don’t have to be right all the time. You only have to be right 60% of the time and you are winning.”

Contradictory?  Perhaps not.

I think of it like this.  Just as marketers have a sales funnel, an organization needs to an innovation funnel.

  • We think up ideas.
  • A certain proportion are worth following through.
  • Of those, only a proportion work (going on to the next one is Plan B).

Toby Moores of Sleepy Dog, budgets and resources 200 ideas in stage , to finish with 1 winning idea in stage 3.  He is a fascinating speaker and is crystal clear about the recruitment, training and management techniques used at Sleepy Dog to generate ideas at a rate of 200:1.

I have never heard Toby say how many ideas Sleepy Dog abandons after they have sunk a lot of money in them.  Would it shock you to know that flourishing companies expect 40% of ideas to flop?  Who wrote on that today?  Sorry I had to shut my computer down and lost the link.  I think you cited GE.  Anyway, it was not just my CEO of my formative years.

Gary Hamel published this little questionnaire on the state of innovation management in your company.

So what is your innovation policy?  This is ours at Rooi.

1.  Keep blogging.  Write down the good ideas so we can find them again.

2.  Keep reading blogs and conventional sources.

3.  Take part in online communities. The best ideas seem to come from where we least expect it.

4.  Start shaping up goals such as “how long does it take to get an online community humming?”

5.  Take lots of breaks.  Good ideas slow down when we are tired.

What are you yours?

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  1. The most important rule of all – simple but worth stating – is not being afraid to make 100% mistakes on the way to working out what is good and worth keeping. Tough to do with someone measuring your success in a corporation, or when you are pouring money into a new venture as an entrepreneur. The truth is, true innovators often look on the outside like irresponsible crazy people.

  2. Excellent article and great comment Suzy!

    Too many companies tie their financials into certain innovations and then force a way to make them work as opposed to funding multiple ideas and expecting some to flop. A whole new culture needs to be developed and while it’s coming–it’s slow going.

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