Transitioning between the Stages of Innovation

Mars One. Fyre Festival. The next Game of Thrones book. These were all popular ideas, but none of them even came close to implementation. Some organizations have incredible visions and are extremely good at generating ideas. However, most of these are never realized because they aren’t successfully driven through the stages of innovation.

At a high level, there are three main stages of innovation:

  1. Validation: Prove your idea has value.
  2. Proof of concept: Prove your idea will work.
  3. Implementation: Figure out how to make it happen.

Knowing the stages of innovation is one thing. Actually driving an idea through the process and transitioning from one stage to the next can be a lot more challenging. Today we will walk you through the stages of innovation and share some tips on getting your ideas from one to the next.


From Idea to Validation

You’re an innovative business. You’ve probably got lots of ideas. If you have been around the block a time or two, you are probably even crowdsourcing ideas. Good for you. You may even have a robust idea management system. But how do you go from just having ideas to actually doing something with them?

The first step is validation. How you go about doing this will depend on whether the idea is for a product, service, process improvement, or whatever else, but the goal is the same—to prove that the idea is worth pursuing.

Why is validation the first step? Consider the Segway, a famous example of an idea with insufficient validation. The Segway was supposed to revolutionize transport. Technically, it worked quite well, but nobody wanted one because it looks so dorky. So now you only ever see police and tourists on them—which really says it all.

Start by answering these three important questions:

  1. Who is your customer?
  2. What problem are you solving? 
  3. How does your idea solve that problem?

At this stage, your answers to these questions are all assumptions. And you know what happens when you assume? That’s right, you test your assumptions (that’s how the saying goes,, right?). Every assumption is a hypothesis—get out there and validate them. The sooner and more thoroughly you test them, the less risk you’ll have down the line.

That being said, don’t spend too much time on validation. You’ll never achieve 100 percent certainty. Get enough data to make an informed decision, then decide. This isn’t the time to get embroiled in details that might not matter in the end.


From Validation to Proof of Concept

Once an idea has passed validation, the next step is proof of concept. Where validation is about making a case for the value of the idea, proof of concept is about proving you can make it happen in the real world.

A proof of concept demonstrates an idea’s feasibility with a simple version of the desired final result. It’s a tangible way to help identify any unforeseen risks in the implementation of the idea. At this point, your goal is to demonstrate that the concept is possible.

Here’s an example of a proof of concept that hasn’t worked out. Shortly after the invention of the car, Curtiss Autoplane came up with the idea of the flying car. It’s easy to validate the potential market for such an idea. Who wouldn’t want a flying car? But companies from Curtiss to Boeing have tried and failed repeatedly to create a working proof of concept. The technology is just not there to make it a reality yet.

That doesn’t mean failure is bad. Innovation is all about being brave enough to fail. If the proof of concept fails, it’s done its job by letting you know the idea isn’t feasible and you shouldn’t spend any more time on it. The idea is to get this done early in the process—right after validation and before any extensive design or engineering work. Some of those flying car proof of concept failures came quite late in the process, which was expensive.

However, don’t judge an idea too early. A seemingly insurmountable obstacle might be overcome with a creative solution. Give those behind the idea the time and resources to experiment and prove its feasibility with data—then judge it ruthlessly.

Keep minds open to creative problem solving by following the Day 1 philosophy. In a 2016 letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos wrote: “Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight.” In other words, treat every day like it’s the first day of your company, nothing is set in stone, and everything has to be discovered.


From Proof of Concept to Implementation

If you’ve completed validation and proof of concept successfully, congratulations—you’ve got a good idea on your hands. Good enough, in fact, that you’re ready for the implementation stage of innovation.

It is crucial for the same person who has the idea to be in the driver's seat. They are the CEO of that idea. Passion is a big part of innovation, and if that idea gets handed off to someone else for implementation. Some of that passion is lost.

At this point, you’ve established that someone would want the idea and that it can be realistically achieved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense for the company to implement it. The innovation manager needs to consider the company’s current portfolio and strategic direction. An idea may not be right for the moment but still be worth saving for the future.

Sometimes, an idea just doesn’t fit the company’s portfolio, but it’s such a great idea that they implement it anyway. They then capture the value of the idea by performing a spin-out/spin-off, generating cash, and showcasing the company’s innovation.


Navigate The Stages of Innovation With rready

rready helps organizations of all sizes encourage, manage, and harness innovation. We support you at all stages of innovation, from idea to implementation, through innovation management as a service and internal development. We want to help you build a culture that values ideas and creativity and continuously generates bottom-up innovation. If you're rready to transform your culture and become an innovation leader, contact us today.

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