A simple system for starting innovation: How to make the front end of innovation less fuzzy & more practical

Authored by Darin Eich, Ph.D., President of BrainReactions LLC http://brainreactions.com

Innovation is creativity with a purpose. It is not only creating new ideas but doing so with a specific intention in mind and with plans to actually launch the developed and realized ideas into the world. There are elements of both creation and action. Innovation should be simple, understandable, and open for a wide variety of people to engage in the process. Innovation is becoming more open, less closed door R&D sessions, and more engagement of actual customers, stakeholders, subject matter experts, and employees at all levels in the process. Many organizations know how to launch and sell their products and services but are “fuzzy” on the front end of the innovation process: the stages that deal with creating, analyzing, and developing ideas. That is why it is known as the “fuzzy front end.” The key to making this important beginning stage of the innovation process less fuzzy and more practical is through articulating a simple system with activities that a wide variety of stakeholders and collaborators and can understand and engage in. The fuzzy front end should be more kitchen table and less scientific lab.


Having a clear system is equivalent to systematically generating ideas on purpose. I will share with you the fundamental elements we have learned while developing and implementing a simple “front end of innovation” process. During the past two years we have been training people from over 200 organizations in this understandable process at InnovationTraining.org. We encourage you to learn innovation through doing it. You can practice and use this process to develop and communicate your big idea in a more systematic and effective way. The projects we have done for a wide variety of companies from P&G and the UN to solo entrepreneurs all use a similar system and activities. They all started with a problem or opportunity, led to brainstorming questions, continued with ideas, and led to selection and development of the best ideas…just like you catalyze your own projects in your own organization.

Innovation System

If you want to develop an innovative idea for your project, where do you start? Start with a proven system of innovation best practices. The diagram above shows the steps involved in a basic innovation system that you can use as a starting point. You will then go about this purposefully with a process or system to develop your ideas into more validated and robust concepts. You would typically generate multiple ideas and then synthesize relevant multiple ideas logically together in the form of a well-developed concept.
It is important to capture and store all of these ideas in one place. Also, great innovations are not solitary work. They are the result of collaborations. Involve others to help you generate ideas, develop the concept, validate the concept, and communicate the concept so that it is meaningful and memorable. An example of the front end of innovation can be found in a brainreactions.net private online brainstorming room, you can pose your question, provide background information, visuals in the form of a photo or video, and generate ideas. With the online brainstorming room you can include up to five brainstormers and these brainstormers can not only generate ideas but also vote, select, and sort the best ideas to move forward and develop. This is a way to involve collaborators in your innovation system.
An important start to an innovation project is to crystallize the problems and challenges that you intend to solve. You must pose important questions that are grounded in the problems or opportunities for innovation. Google launched a campaign that solicited concept ideas to change the world. To use Google’s Project 10^100 framework as an example, they offered seven suggested categories and questions:
1. Community: How can we help connect people, build communities and protect unique cultures?
2. Opportunity: How can we help people better provide for themselves and their families?
3. Energy: How can we help move the world toward safe, clean, inexpensive energy?
4. Environment: How can we help promote a cleaner and more sustainable global ecosystem?
5. Health: How can we help individuals le ad longer, healthier lives?
6. Education: How can we help more people get more access to better education?
7. Shelter: How can we help ensure that everyone has a safe place to live?
These are examples of categories and related questions to start. These categories were selected because they offer real problems and opportunity. These are starting places, if your vision is to “change the world” then the seven Google categories and questions may be beneficial starting places for you. Odds are that your questions and categories may be different and related to the problems or opportunities that exist for you or your organization, specific to your mission. These starting places are big questions of their own or can catalyze sub-questions for you to purposefully generate ideas on.
Action to take: Clarify a simple system you will use to innovate. Use the model we are presenting or customize your own. Know that you are engaging in a system to innovate and what that system is. Identify and write down the areas you would like to innovate in. These are problems or opportunities. Research them. Create questions to ask.
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Darin Eich, Ph.D. is President of BrainReactions LLC and founder of InnovationTraining.org.
This activity is a part of BrainReactions Innovation Training. BrainReactions Innovation Training can teach, facilitate, engage, and guide your team step-by-step through this innovation system and over 30 different interactive activities to help you generate ideas and solve your challenges. You can learn our techniques and activities to do again and again on your own and contribute to a sustainable culture of innovation within your organization. Email Dr. Darin Eich at darin.eich@brainreactions.com to inquire about bringing training and facilitation into your organization or to do an event to capture the ideas of your employees, customers or stakeholders.
Do you want to learn more about systematic innovation? The Systematic Idea Generation for Innovation 4 part online workshop series has been popular with 200 different companies seeking to learn the language of innovation and generate new ideas. You can start this webinar series today at http://innovationtraining.org. Other webinar programs are available on Brainstorming Techniques and Idea & Concept Communication.

About The Author

Darin

Darin Eich is the author of Innovation Step-by-Step: How to Create & Develop Ideas for your Challenge and Root Down & Branch Out: Best Practices for Leadership Development Programs and has a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Darin was also the president and co-founder of BrainReactions, InnovationTraining.org, and other startups.

Darin gives speeches and can be hired to help your institution facilitate, create, and develop innovation programs, courses, retreats, and even conduct assessment or coach staff on developing leadership programs. Visit Innovation Training to see for yourself or
email darin@programinnovation.com.