What Makes Breakthrough Ideas Successful?

What Makes Breakthrough Ideas Successful?

By Frank Mattes

So, you have finally found it. The big, breakthrough idea. Your firm has spent a large amount of resources to find this idea. If your firm is in line with other leading firms, it has spent 10 percent of the innovation budget to find these kinds of breakthroughs (70 percent go into incremental innovations that sustain the current business model and percent into adjacent markets and technologies).

Your gut feeling tells you: This is it. Your colleagues and managers agree. Feasibility analyses show that this idea is viable – from a technological, a financial, a supply chain and from a market perspective. The big question is now: How do you turn this idea into a successful innovation that will sell in the marketplace? In the truest meaning of words, this is a multi-million dollar question.
Obviously this article cannot lay out every single step your firm has to do in order to turn your breakthrough idea into a smashing innovation success. But in our experience, there are four key success factors that your firm needs to address.

      • Success Factor 1: Build on ambidexterity

        Turing the big, breakthrough idea into an innovation success requires an “exploration” mind-set that is totally different from an “exploitation” mindset that is appropriate for incremental innovation (more information on this can be found HERE. So the realization of the breakthrough idea needs to be separated from the usual innovation management. Seven ideas on how leading firms achieve this can be found HERE.

      • Success Factor 2: Build on Design Thinking

        In 1969, Honeywell launched the H316 kitchen computer that was supposed to produce gourmet recipes for the busy housewife. If she wanted to build dinner around broccoli, she’d have to code in 0001101000. The kitchen computer would then suggest suitable foods from its database by a series of flashing lights. It had a few recipes and a cutting board built in. Apparently, no H316 was ever sold (more information and an image can be found HERE.

        What do we learn from this story? Not every “breakthrough” idea turns into a breakthrough innovation as seen from the customer’s view. Fortunately, a solid method for aligning ideas with what potential customers see as innovation has become Good Practice: Design Thinking. Using this approach, your innovation team engages potential customers already at a very early stage with mock-ups and prototypes, deepens its understanding about what really makes up a successful innovation from the customer’s view, learns which route to take – and avoids costly mistakes (More information on how to integrate customers in the innovation process can be found HERE and HERE.

      • Success Factor 3: Manage the funnel appropriately

        Big, breakthrough ideas are not simply product-line extensions, geographic expansions, or minor technological improvements. So most likely, there are multiple dimensions of uncertainty: Potential customers are often mere possibilities; value propositions are just guesses; underlying technologies are unproven; supply chains are not defined. Standard “waterfall” Stage Gate thinking, with its inherent paradigm of systematically minimizing innovation risk, will not work in a scenario of high-risk innovation where risks are multidimensional and frequently interdependent.

        So how should the funnel be managed? In an ambidextrous set-up, as described above, a well-defined phased approach needs to be set up with one big difference compared to standard Stage Gate: All relevant dimensions (customer, technology, supply chain, financial, service, …) are worked on simultaneously, from the start on – in growing level of detail / diminishing level of uncertainty. The breakthrough idea will be moved to the next phase only when all of dimensions have been worked out satisfactorily to the required level of detail (e.g. a “concept”). This way, one avoids ending up with a perfect technical solution that unfortunately doesn’t fit into the customer’s “jobs to be done”, his pain points and his expected benefits.

      • Success Factor 4: Use viral communication for market preparation and launch

        When Apple announces a breakthrough product, the world listens. Before, during and after the announcement event, there is incredible buzz. However, only few firms enjoy the same level of public interest as Apple does.

Nevertheless, also your firm has access to a global marketing and presales machine for little money. It only requires some thinking and little investments to find out which bloggers and power user need to be engaged, which Twitter hash tags should be used, how YouTube videos should be set up so that they generate a viral attention for your firm’s breakthrough innovation – and how all these activities should be interconnected with “classical” sales and communication activities.

(By the way: Why not put a link into the email signature saying: “There is something big coming up” that links to a teaser video on YouTube or why not add  teaser videos to your firm’s conference presentations?).

At PreScouter, we help companies find the most innovative solutions to any challenge. Contact us today and challenge us with yours!

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