(Originally posted on The Innovation Workgroup’s LinkedIn page, 13th July, 2015)
When faced with a challenge, there are two basic approaches to find the right response. One is to study. The other is to take action.
Albert Einstein epitomized the first approach. He said that, given one hour to solve a problem, he would spent 55 minutes thinking about it and only then try to solve it.
Google exemplifies the second approach. Once a new idea is approved, Google’s next step is usually to build a working version and launch it to a subset of their users to see what happens.
Which of these two approaches produces more success?
In our innovation projects, we find that the greatest mistakes happen when teams advance to action before spending enough time on study. For example, one company did excellent work on the first two phases of innovation, Discovery and Invention. The result of their work was a solid short list of promising projects, including enthusiastic feedback from customers who wanted the company to create a new product.
With such encouraging results, the company swung into action. They created a working model of the product, and then another. However, each time a working model was presented, the customers had some objection that required the company to redesign the product. The company overlooked our approach to Step 3 of the innovation process: Refinement. In their bias toward action, they missed the chance to learn about the customers’ objections through lower-cost study instead of expensive and time-consuming product design.
Similar mistakes occur frequently during Step 1: Discovery. The purpose of this step is to recognize a valuable insight that will lead to a breakthrough innovation. Some companies omit this step altogether. Others study only until they get their first positive results and then act based on premature conclusions, a bit like consultants, who are sometimes teased for believing that a single data point defines a trend.
World-class innovation addresses the dichotomy between study and action in a clever way. Rather than bookish learning, mere reflection, or blind action, a scientific approach that combines study and action is the solution. The goal is to learn, and each step in the process should be a well-designed experiment or research activity that will produce useful knowledge.
The linked article discusses some of the author’s experiences with start-ups, where the tension between study and action led to some difficult – and wrong – decisions. How well do you manage this tension in your innovation process?
Additional reading on this topic: When It Comes To Digital Innovation, Less Action, More Thought