Why You Need Innovation Strategy Consulting
Business has a way of beating certain terms to death well before their best before date.
Take the words ‘innovation’ and ‘strategy’. Search ‘innovation’ and you’ll get 1.8 billion results in under a second. Try the same with ‘strategy’ and the internet coughs up 2.5 billion results. The ceaseless repetition of these words in the business press, books and blogs over the last 30 years has pushed them to the brink of meaninglessness.
And yet, everybody still wants innovation. Why? Because whether it’s radical or incremental innovation, product or service innovation, business model or social innovation, it is the ultimate source of competitive advantage.
What is Innovation Strategy?
Like all spheres of human activity, business is no stranger to trends, and one of its most resilient over the last 30 years has been an obsession with operational efficiency. It has become the most well-worn tool in the strategic woodshed, and while companies like Walmart and Amazon have relied on it to build their vast empires, for many others it is not so much a source of competitive advantage as it is a matter of everyday necessity.
If operational efficiency is just table stakes, how do you find competitive advantage? By thinking differently. Most categories these days are highly fragmented and overpopulated with look-alikes that profess differentiation even as they cling to category conventions. Like the humans that created them, they are more interested in fitting in than in standing out. Few are capable of imagining what a truly innovative offer looks like because that requires thinking well outside operational and category norms. You can’t innovate if you can’t think outside the norms.
But thinking outside the norms can get in the way of running a well-oiled business machine. The people you hire to create something new are generally not the kind of people you hire to run the operation after launch. The challenge of running a smooth operation requires discipline, focus and managerial know-how more than unfettered creativity. For many businesses, that means not doing things differently but doing the same thing over and over again with as little friction as possible.
As it happens, product, service and business model innovation require both lateral thinking and mental discipline. In the fuzzy front end of an innovation process, what is rewarded is divergent, out-of-the-category thinking. This is the stage of the process that people associate the most with innovation, because it’s the fun, creative part. And the part that most organizational cultures struggle with.
Because imagination and unconventional thinking are challenging for most corporate cultures, that’s what gets outsourced, and that’s the part that many innovation strategy consulting firms focus on. So when you are trying to select an innovation consultant, you are typically comparing one firm’s capacity for creative ideation to another’s.
The problem with this is that an innovative idea is only as good as a customer’s willingness to pay for it. And determining whether a customer will pay for it – a process called customer development – is not something most ideation-driven innovation consulting firms excel at.
Our Innovation Consulting Services
Normative is different. We are certainly well equipped for the divergent front end of the innovation process, but for us, that’s only part of the journey. Effective innovation depends on evidence-based validation from the people for whom the product or service is designed. This requires taking ideas out of the office and sharing them with customers before you build them. It’s a recursive, iterative process that requires several conversations, several wrong attempts and learning from your mistakes each time until you get it right. But it doesn’t work unless you leave the building and talk to customers.
Many innovation consultants are focused on product development, not customer development. We insist on doing both. The risk of focusing on product development is that you fall so deeply in love with your own idea that you don’t validate it with others until it’s too late. By that time you’ve bet the farm on solving a problem that customers may not even have.
How Our Approach to Business Innovation Strategy Can Help You
We straddle the paradox between taking creative risks up front and mitigating those risks through evidence-based validation early in the process. That means taking the lowest fidelity prototype possible to potential customers for input before investing in more expensive iterations. It means determining whether your product or service innovation actually solves customer problems. It means finding customers who are willing to pay for it. And then it means finding enough customers to build a sales roadmap that will allow you to scale.
It is commonplace that 7-9 out of 10 new product introductions fail. This is often the result of doing product development without doing customer development. Our more comprehensive approach – means you get the best of both worlds: a truly innovative product, service, or business model and a profitable, scalable business for your company.