If a colleague approached you with a revolutionary new idea, would you run with it or would you write it off as unrealistic? History, after all, is filled with examples of great ideas that were initially passed over before taking off: Investors found the telephone too impractical to be successful, and tech legend Steve Jobs was famously turned down by several firms in Silicon Valley when he and Steve Wozniak tried to pitch the first Apple computer. Perhaps part of the challenge of innovating is convincing others to recognize innovation when it occurs.
Contributing to the widespread difficulty in recognizing innovation is the nebulous process by which we currently develop disruptive ideas. There’s no set of best practices in innovation, and as a result, organizations hoping to cultivate game-changing notions may simply leave employees to their own devices and hope that they come up with a winning proposition.
However, as Steve Blank and Pete Newell point out in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, innovation should be less of an undefined, free-play activity and more like research and development. They outline a methodology for innovation—not unlike the scientific method—that establishes clear beginning, middle, and endpoints that transforms innovation from a passive to an active process.
They start with sourcing and identifying potential problems or challenges to overcome as well as technologies that might be worth pursuing further. This makes the goal of innovation tangible to the people who are responsible for generating new ideas; now, instead of fumbling for ways to reinvent the wheel, teams can focus more clearly on how to improve transportation or logistics.
The next step is curation, which involves research and outreach. Seek out the opinions of both clients and coworkers in order to learn what their actual needs are, what solutions they envision, what potential ideas already exist, and more, and then developing a drafting a minimum viable product (MVP). Then comes prioritization of the proposed solution to determine whether or not it is a feasible step for the organization.
The final three steps—hypothesis testing, incubation, and integration—are where innovation jumps from the page and comes to life. Run ideas under the microscope during hypothesis testing by crafting business models for each proposal and having members of each department within your organization weigh in on them. Let ideas incubate, but not atrophy, if it turns out that more research is necessary or that it’s not the right time to launch that approach. Integrate the ultimate idea into your organization by making a dedicated team responsible for it once it’s been rolled out.
Of course, not every solution that comes out of this innovation pipeline will go on to revolutionize business or society. What it will do is revolutionize how your organization manages and allocates resources toward innovation: By breaking it into steps, you can have a much clearer sense of how much time, money, and manpower innovation will require, thus enabling you to manage it much more easily.