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January 31, 2021

How to clean up the innovation mess

By  –  Contributing Writer

According to the late Wharton Professor Russell Ackoff, attempting to innovate without first validating customer demand is a "mess."

Indeed, any situation that has “arguable issue definition and arguable solutions” is a mess.

If you do not confirm that a customer need is important and unsatisfied before generating ideas, then you are creating a mess. First, identify your customers’ unmet needs and then solve their problems.

Never get bogged down testing ideas again

Many organizations get bogged down testing a lot of bad ideas. I know one organization that abandoned its entire stage-gate new product development process because the frontend seemed hopelessly bogged down. This is totally unnecessary and should never happen.

Yet it happens because organizations mistakenly think that “innovation begins with an idea.” Not true. New product development starts with an idea, but innovation begins with an insight. Every fully formed new product idea is comprised of 1) an insight into the customers’ unmet needs, and 2) a novel way to address that unmet need better.

If you want to turn innovation into a repeatable business process, discover your customers’ unmet needs first and then solve their problems. A well-defined customer need is half-satisfied.

The challenge is that most organizations don’t know how to identify their target customers’ unmet needs. Consequently, they waste time and resources testing a lot of bad ideas. Contrary to popular opinion, any idea that does not address an important unsatisfied need is a “bad” idea. To test ideas that address unimportant needs is to major in the minors. And to test (and focus on) ideas that address needs that are already well-satisfied by the market may give you competitive parity if your customers are unsatisfied with your solution, but it won’t give you a competitive advantage since other competitors are already satisfying the need. Only those needs that your target market deems to be important and unsatisfied are opportunities for innovation and growth and worthy of pursuit.


What if you could identify and rank the biggest opportunities for innovation and growth in your market from the customers’ point of view, independent of any solutions, with statistical validity before generating any ideas? What if you knew where to focus and what to do to address unmet needs in a repeatable manner? Could that change the game for you?

Savvy organizations discover the unmet needs in their markets first and then generate ideas to address them. This changes the brainstorming mantra to, “There is no such thing as a bad idea as long as it addresses a known unmet need.” It also changes innovation from a game of chance into a repeatable business process.

Reveal needs. Create value. Drive growth.

How to clean up the innovation mess

Posted by ACASA on January 31, 2021 at 11:01 PM | Permalink


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