The 3 Kernels of innovation

Hack Days, Innovation days, Test and learn days. Call them what you will — Short sharp events to bring people from across your organisation together to come up with the next big idea have become very popular.

To kick-start these processes you need high quality seed ideas that can be developed over the course of the event.

As I’ve worked across a wide range of organisations, industries and teams to help them innovate I’ve seen 3 specific places the initial seed ideas come from:

  • Corporate Strategy — We’ve recognised a big important problem we don’t know how to solve, we’ve done some work to understand the parameters of it and now we need a solution.
  • Wisdom of the crowds — Our people know what the problems are, so we’ll collect them all up and from there we’ll be able to theme them and decide what’s most important.
  • Customers — We’ve got to know our customers (or potential customers) really well so they can tell us what the next big idea is.

All of these are great places to start your innovation efforts from, each with specific pros and cons, depending on what you are trying to achieve.

Corporate Strategy

Great when:

  • Your organisation has a clearly defined strategy.
  • You know the customers you’re aiming at really well.
  • The strategy will utilise the skills and experience of your current teams.
  • You are looking for adjacent and breakthrough innovation rather than incremental innovations.
  • You are demonstrating the power of innovation to the Executive.

Key Pain Points:

  • You haven’t collected enough data to understand the problems well enough.
  • You aren’t close enough to your customers.
  • The strategy directly impacts participants.

Wisdom of the crowds

Great when:

  • You want to build a culture of innovation in your teams.
  • You are looking for marginal gains, incremental or process innovations.
  • You collect ideas from across the organisation (especially customer facing roles).

Key Pain Points:

  • The ideas submitted are not aligned to strategy.
  • You aren’t close enough to your customers.
  • There is not a clear view of projects in flight in the organisation that may be addressing the problems identified already.

Customers (And non-customers)

Great when:

  • You want to ensure your innovation ideas are valuable to customers.
  • You want your people to really understand the customer need.
  • You want a strong case to take to the executive that will be difficult to argue with.

Key Pain Points:

  • Talking to existing customers will likely lead to issues being raised with the current offering, this may get in the way of new ideas.
  • You have an organisational culture that disregards customer input so executives and decision makers believe they know better than the customer anyway.
  • Customers are unlikely to give your direct ideas that are true breakthrough innovation.

In summary, if you are planning an innovation event give some thought to where your ideas are going come from and try to address the key pain points with that source of origin.

If you think there are additional kernels for ideas or more gains and pains I’ve missed, I’d love to know!