by: Idris Mootee

There was the Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston last week and as usual it attracted a lot of thinkers and practitioners of innovation. People shared their stories and experiences in innovation by changing the way people think and act - shifting paradigms and orthodoxies that aren't being challenged.

When talking about innovation, most people referring narrowly to idea generation. The innovation process is actually divided into four phases: the fuzzy front end (FFE) which involves a lot of insight gathering, ideation and early conceptualization, them the new product development (NPD) process which involves design and engineering prototyping, next is go-to-market early-stage commercialization (ESC), where ideas are needed to inform how the product is being brought to market (usually small underserved or unserved market/segments) and the final stage is driving mass adoption (DMA), where innovation is applied to mass market the product/service and considering include how to use this disruptive innovation to upset the market dynamics and economics. Innovation is required along the four stages. Our expereinces show us that clients need mroe outside help on stage one and stage three.

95% of people out there think of innovation as first two phases. The skills and business imagination required for phase four is even more hard to find. You don't need a new product to innovate. Innovation can be finding an application for a dying or even dead product. Here's an example. 

Cassette tape is dead and in fact dead longtime ago. So if you are in the business of manufacturing and selling cassette tapes, you do have a problem. There are probably no nostalgists who lyrically pine for the days of tape, no audiophiles who swear by the purity of the format as cassette hadn't never been like vinyl records. It takes a lot of innovative thinking to find its place in the world. One man was still investing in cassette tape. Even CDs are slowing going away, why cassette tape? 

Bob Paris had a big idea. According to Bob Paris, owner of North Hollywood's Pack Central (a mail-order business exclusively dedicated to selling cassette tapes) "Five years ago, people thought I was nuts when I invested tons of money in analog prerecorded music on tape." Now? Paris' business steadily brings in a million dollars a year. But who is buying Paris' cassettes? America's 2.3 million prisoners. Which brings us to the second advantage of tape over compact disc: a tape can't be broken apart and used as a shiv. So prisoners are allowed to have them. Imagine this will become the only company left in the world to supply to prisoners around the world? Imagine they expand to include new content such as inmate personal development, spiritual development and even a serious called "What's going on out there?" to keep them informed of the fast changing world. This is a typical example of using innovation to bring old products back to life.

There are disproportional attention on the front-end activities that precede this formal and structured process designed to increase the value, amount, and success probability of high-value concepts entering product development and commercialization, we have built a large toolbox in an attempt to perfect the art and science of not only the fuzzy front end but along the whole innovation lifecycle. Most of the time we find great satisfaction in bringing innovation to old products. Innovation doesn't need to start with the new.

Here’s some highlights on being customer-focused from the Front End of Innovation Conference :

- A.G. Lafley (P&G CEO) is outspoken and insightful. When asked about how P&G became so customer-centric, given we understand how difficult it is for companies of that size, he recalled his first days on the job as CEO. "We were all so busy every day, so much so that our heads were in our phones/computers and our behinds were facing our customers." First thing he did was to get people out of their offices and into customer's lives and watch them. This is very simple and true. The reality is how much managers can afford to spend time watching customers. Meetings, admin and emails take up 90% of senior managers’ time. That’s why it is so valuation that this needs to be institutionalized. For Idea Couture, instead of bringing client to our ethnographic field trips, we capture these observations on tape and put them up on our innovation platform, that way, clients can have access to these anytime and be able to read/watch our anthropological analysis to help stimulate their thinking.

- There are lots of talks in on “Humanization”. Apple isn't selling computers or gadgets, Apple is selling a human experience. An experience that empowers us. Apple is about imagination, innovation and design It is also about Steve jobs. Jobs builds the Apple brand and now the the Apple brand build another super brand Steve Jobs. Jobs magic touch can be extend to anything.

- A.G. Lafley: "we have to understand what customers can't articulate." Customers might be able to express what they dislike, but they won't necessarily be able to tell you why or how to fix it.

- Peter Guber (Mandalay) - storytelling  (see my last post) has been the key to his success, and the key to the success of just about everyone he knows (in entertainment or not). When you can tell a good story (about yourself, your company, your brand, your mission, your goal), it resonates with people emotionally and memorably. Good storytelling is not informational, it's emotional - it engages the heart and the mind.

Pls share your thoughts.For those bicycle lovers, here are pictures of latest innovation in bicycle from The Bicycle Exhibition. Below are photos of our end-of-summer party at Scott's house and his new wood burning pizza oven.

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