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Having the title ‘Inventiologist’ has a habit of getting you into some interesting conversations about how the Inventium crew help make innovation tangible, repeatable and profitable. One of the most common things I hear early on in these conversations is, “oh, so you help companies come up with ideas”. My favourite part of these chats is where I get to tell people about how idea generation is certainly an important part of the innovation process, but a best practice approach also includes a front-end and a back-end.

I’ve given this focus on idea generation phenomenon a name: ‘stuck in the middle’ syndrome (if you’re a music nerd like me, you’re picturing Stealers Wheel circa 1972). If you’re looking to un-stick yourself from the middle of the process, you need to broaden your approach. The front-end of the innovation process is all about uncovering the biggest opportunities for innovation, which come from your customers and align to the broader organisational strategy. The back-end of the innovation process involves leaning into failure early on with your best ideas, to help minimise risk and increase the chances that you will succeed.

There are a few things you can do straight away to start finding customer problems worth solving, and to leanly discover whether your solution is valued by customers (and therefore worthy of further investment):

1. Encourage employees to get out of the building

  • Front-end: observe customers (in their natural habitat) and conduct ethnographic research to find common frustrations. You can read more on how to use observation as a discovery skill in Harvard Business Review’s ‘The Innovators DNA’ by Clayton Christensen.
  • Back-end: take your concept to customers as early as possible to see how they behave and what they do/don’t value. This could be just be one element of the concept, or one assumption you want to test.

2. Divide and conquer. Different stages of the process require different skill sets. Allocate employee ‘champions’ to the front-end and back-end of the process based on their talent and experience.

  • Front-end: people with skills such as being able to gain empathy, a curiosity to explore behind the surface level answer, and who are able to leave their assumptions at the door are all great starters.
  • Back-end: project management and agile methodology experience and skills are useful, as well as skills that will help to rapidly develop an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), such as wire framing or landing page design are good to get concepts tested quickly.

3. Innovation is a learned skill. Building talent for innovation by simply asking employees to be more innovative, leaves your success to chance. Instead, start getting out of ‘the middle’ by exposing your employees to the front-end and back-ends of the innovation process too!

If you have any questions on how broaden your organisations innovation efforts, or are looking for a Stealers Wheel karaoke buddy, get in touch. You can find me on email: [email protected] and on Twitter: @fasttrackjudy. For now, have a great week!