The future of innovation will be extensively shaped by an increased focus on the execution of ideas that have been validated. Businesses have become acutely aware of the cost of capital over the last decade, well before the current financial crisis struck. In innovation this has meant increasingly sophisticated techniques to address the ‘fuzzy’ (yet actually not very difficult) front-end, and enormous rigour over prototyping, testing and stage gate management. It is deeply ironic that innovative ideas that have survived this Darwinian assault course can then be thrown into the business’s routine machine for commercialisation where they have to compete with everything else that is going on. The most they can often hope for is a few short moments in the limelight in the first 3-6 months of their delicate lives. The reason is clear. There is often an organisational disconnect between development teams and commercial streams. Yet even when these streams are involved early, it is mainly directed at getting buy-in to the concept and often feels very token.
In future the innovation world will see that playing ‘safe’ at this stage is counter-productive. More attention will be paid to innovating in execution. How would it be if we developed and applied consumer research methodologies that were projective rather than retrospective? If we developed launch media strategies based around attitudinal clusters rather than the common groupings so loved of media owners and their planning systems? If we considered radically different routes to market, sampling, merchandising and customer relationship programmes? Of course these exist in pockets, but the execution of innovation is rarely systematised in the total innovation process. Innovators generally have permission from their shareholders and stakeholders to take risk and have become much better at managing risk in the development stages of products and services until they are sure they have something that offers a relevant difference. Let this risk principle, and all the safeguards that go with it, spread into the final lap of the race and compound difference of product with difference of execution to create a durable hero in the consumer’s mind.
This has major implications for how innovators operate. It implies creating the willingness of stakeholders and shareholders to imagine different business models. It implies a shift from bringing in members of the commercial team (who may have limited innovation capability) at a middle stage and essentially asking them to graft the innovation onto their existing approach, to running an integrated execution stream from the very beginning. It implies a shift from a bravery/timidity model to a bravery x bravery model that seems paradoxical in tough times, but which may well represent a rich future seam for innovation.