Process, Iteration, and Failure Lead to Innovation
Innovation rarely comes as the result of an apple falling from a tree and hitting you in the head. Innovation is more of a process – sometimes simple and buried deep within the psyche of the individual, and sometimes methodically sewn into the practices of a team – that is put in motion by the desire to improve the status quo. While not every innovation has a functional application, some of the most creative inventions were developed as byproducts of less useful creations. That is all part of the innovation process.
The key is to jumpstart the innovative process into your startup by adding some practical steps — to ensure that your company starts out in the right direction. The key to building a successful startup or expanding an existing operation – and developing a constancy of purpose across your organization – is to develop and refine this process of innovation. In his book High Tech Start Up, author John L. Nesheim outlines the basic steps to building an organization:
- Understand the process of forming a company – understand the steps, and the implications of the endeavor. Know what you’re getting into before you suddenly find yourself with people who depend on you.
- Build founder commitments – here is where the constancy of purpose applies. You must be of one mind on the vision and the strategy.
- Gather financial, legal, and strategic advice – build a strong support team, and don’t be afraid to ask them for help. That’s what they’re there for.
- Create a business plan that addresses the customer, the market, the business model, and the risks – to get funding, you need to write it. To succeed, you need to live it.
- Raise capital – capital is second only to your employees in importance. You need to understand the implications of funding sources, and the cost, and provide your team with an exit strategy.
- Launching the first product – all of your team’s hard work leads up to this day. Make sure your implementation plans coincide with your business plan, and reflect your cultural values.
Within your product strategy and development methodology lies the core of your innovative process; a process that is slowly developed and refined over the life of your organization by the people who know your product and your market the best – your employees. And, practically speaking, at the center of this process is your product.
To summarize the core steps of developing and launching a product, as contained in High Tech Product Launch by Catherine Kitcho, there are ten primary steps involved in the product innovation process:
- Product definition – know what you are building before you begin.
- Strategic objectives – understand why you are building, for who, and for what purpose.
- Customer identification – clarify your target customer group.
- Market identification and sizing – understand your segments, your geographies, and your opportunity.
- Competition – know who else is out there.
- Positioning – understand where you stand in relation to other offerings, and how your product or service provides unique value.
- Messaging – don’t get lost in the hype. Be clear and concise.
- Marketing plan – always have a strategy, and a contingency plan.
- Launch – execute flawlessly. But don’t be afraid to make mistakes, which are sometimes our best learning tools.
- Revisit lessons learned – ALWAYS stop to take a look back at what was accomplished, and see where you can improve. There’s always room for improvement.
I often tell people that innovation (and entrepreneurship, in general) is not so much about the methodology (process) you follow, but the fact that you are using a methodology. The guidance provided above by Nesheim and Kitcho may not fit every scenario or team culture, but they provide some repeatable steps that can help any manager or team to develop some healthy habits. The overnight breakthrough is a rarity. Most innovation comes after failure, followed by introspection and iteration. As Thomas Edison once famously stated, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”