Are Your Innovative Solutions Gathering Dust?

A company senses changes ahead in its market, changes that could rock its very foundation. Against this turning tide, it assembles an enthusiastic, talented team and gives them a mission: go create the future.

And that’s what the team does. It challenges convention. It tries out new ideas. It develops concepts and components that look nothing like the status quo. It’s a radical leap forward.

And they can’t seem to get management to care. The executives’ implicit question: How can this be our future when it’s not even part of our bread-and-butter product line?

In fact, it took another company’s management to recognize and bring the team’s innovative ideas to life.

“After an hour looking at demos, they understood our technology and what it meant, more than any executive [of ours] understood after years of showing it to them,” one of the team members later said.

The rest, as they say, is history. Apple® Macintosh® history.

The story of Xerox® PARC and Apple® has become almost stuff of legend. But for all the repeating of this cautionary tale, why do so many companies still fail to learn its lessons? If companies say they want creative ideas, why do so many of those ideas never reach scale?

In most of these situations, the obstacles are the same — and in nearly every case, design thinking can pave the way forward.

Creating Great Solutions Is Only the First Step

Prove it.

They’re just two simple words. But as Roger Martin pointed out, when it comes to innovation, these words can be deadly. Executives typically want rigorous analytics to back up a decision. The problem is, you can’t prove unprecedented solutions with past data. Without those proof points, executives often end up killing innovative ideas before they ever get out in the world.

Martin goes on to make an important connection with design thinking. Its strength, from the designer’s perspective, lies in its ability to create better solutions for users. Equally important is its ability — through rapid, iterative prototyping — to “turn the future into the past.” By so doing, it can generate the evidence necessary for leaders to support and fund new ideas.

The process of design thinking itself, in other words, can bolster the business case and provide the proof that leaders crave in order to advance innovative ideas.

But leaders aren’t the only stakeholders affected by the introduction of an innovative solution. What about the other stakeholders, like those who will need to execute on that idea? Are they ready, willing and able to support it and its ongoing success?

The reality is, innovation inevitably triggers change, and change affects every stakeholder in the organization differently. When great innovative solutions are introduced but fail to reach scale, it’s almost always because the change side wasn’t handled well.

A revolutionary idea that’s gathering dust in the corner doesn’t benefit anyone. The same design thinking approach that helps create the great solution can also help lay the groundwork for ensuring the change it requires really does happen — and that every stakeholder buys in.

In our next post, we’ll look at four ways design thinking can help you not just innovate but also ensure the innovation makes it out into the world. All are concepts great change leaders practice as necessary steps in an effective change process. Design thinking gives you an excellent tool for achieving them.

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