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Putting the Solution Cart Before the Innovation Horse

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By Jeffrey Phillips

So, here it comes again. Another blog post using an old
standby as a way to make a point. Today's old standby is the adage about
placing the cart before the horse. In the fast paced world in which we live,
there is great pressure to skip ahead to activities or actions that seem to
provide value, or to assume we know enough information to skip over the humble
act of understanding what people want and need. To that end I see far too
many clients putting solutions and technologies ahead
of innovation
.
What's worse, they are calling the selection of a new
technology or solution 'innovation' before they've done any customer insight
work or research, or worse, in lieu of doing any trend spotting or customer
insight work. Many clients are simply declaring a solution or technology
and then using 'innovation' as a way to validate their
selections. This is problematic on a number of levels.
Reversing the order

The first problem is in reversing the order of the
process. While everyone likes closure, the selection of a tool, technology
or solution before investigation of the underlying problem doesn't guarantee
you've got the right solution. The solution chosen may be the right one,
but if so don't dress up the presentation in 'innovation' clothes. You've
simply made a management decision to select and implement a tool or technology
based on gut feeling, pressure from a manager, customer or vendor, or some other
reason. Choosing a new technology without understanding customer needs may
lead to the right outcome, but it's not innovation. Innovation starts by
understanding evolving trends and unmet customer needs, acts of discovery, then
defines potential solutions and identifies the best one based on gathered
insights. This places discovery before selection, not in service of the
act of validating the selection.
Innovation as a cover
for decisions rather than a basis

Innovation should help create insights that lead to informed
decisions, not provide a cover for decisions you planned to take
anyway. There is already far too much cynicism and fear associated with
implementing anything new or different. Innovation faces far too much cultural
and change resistance, why create new reasons to doubt innovation and its
potential outcomes? Everyone recognizes that true innovation outcomes
(growth, differentiation) are important. Why water down the innovation
possibilities through defining a selection of a solution or technology as
innovation, rather than doing the work that's necessary to discover whether or
not the solution is the right one?
Image via
InnovationExcellence.com

Short cuts often lead
to poor outcomes

Ultimately, teams or managers that select technologies or
solutions and implement them under the cover of 'innovation' are
taking short cuts. They are skipping over important and necessary
discovery work, which speeds up the decision process and moves to
implementation. But the cost of the short cut is that often a solution or
technology chosen in this manner doesn't provide the benefits customers want,
and fails to deliver the benefits the firm wants. Short cuts almost always lead
to solutions that are less than what was possible or achievable. Often the
work of discovery isn't expensive or time consuming. That work is rejected
because of a rush to get to an answer ' any answer, rather than admit that we
don't know or can't be bothered to learn. If you are clairvoyant and know
the answer in advance, you belong in Vegas. Can you and your team be
humble enough to work with customers to discover needs, rather than triumphant
enough to select based on your own intuition or preference?
Begin with the end in
mind

Stephen Covey often talks about his seven habits, one of
which is 'begin with the end in mind'. What is the 'end' you
want? Fast completion of an activity based on the selection of a tool or
technology that may or may not meet customer needs? Is the 'end' implementing
solutions that meet or exceed customer expectations? What are you willing
to commit to achieve those benefits? Are you willing to put the act of
discovery in front of the selection of a tool or technology, even if the act of
discovery exposes your lack of knowledge about customer needs? Can you
partake in discovery without demanding a specific tool or technology be defined
as the logical outcome?
This post was brought you by InnovationExcellence,
the online home of the global innovation community, building a growing network
with thousands of members from over 175 countries ' thought leaders,
executives, practitioners, consultants, vendors, and academia representing all
sectors and industries. Its mission is to enhance innovation by providing a
forum for connection and conversation across this community.
Like this topic?
Attend BEI Back End of Innovation 2013 with
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About the Author: Jeffrey
Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed
organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is
the author of Relentless Innovation and the blog Innovate on Purpose. 

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