The Front End Of Innovation Challenge

Front End of InnovationIn a recent meeting in one of my network groups, we focused on the front end of innovation as a couple of the members have current challenges on how to identify and develop ideas in the very early stages.

I remember attending my first Front End Of Innovation conference in Boston five years ago. Hundreds of people participated and there was a great energy. At that time, front end of innovation was the talk of the town in the innovation community just as open innovation is today. Interestingly enough, the front end of innovation is still one of the key challenges for innovation leaders and the Front End of Innovation conferences continue to attract hundreds of participants.

I wonder why this is the case. Has the innovation community failed on developing models that provide answers to this? Are innovation leaders not good enough at learning from other’s experiences on this?

In my talks with innovation leaders on this, the issues evolve around the funnel system and stage-gate like models; how to identify the ideas and get them from one stage to the next. Another key issue is how you organize for this. It is my experience that companies often make a couple of mistakes on this. They are:

1. Too much focus on internal sources

  • Many innovation leaders mostly talk about internal and employee-driven ideas. There is not enough focus on how to involve external sources in the front end of innovation. This will change as open innovation moves ahead, but why not try to get a head start on this.

2. Too much focus on ideas and too little on processes and people

  • I have always said that getting ideas is not an issue. There are plenty of them. If you do not find them internally, it is because you do not look in the right places or because you need to include external sources to a higher degree. The real issue on ideas is how you filter and later on mature them.

Front End of Innovation ChallengeSo a lot of ideas do not necessarily equal success. This only occurs when you have the proper processes in place and more importantly when you have the right people at the right time.

See this post: People First, Processes Next, Then Ideas

3. No filtering process in place

  • The “everything goes” process does not work. You need to set up filters to make sure the early ideas fit the strategic intent you are working towards. You can get an idea of what it looks like when this is not the case in this blog post: How Not to Implement Open Innovation

4. Processes are too complex

  • I have seen several cases where companies created processes that attended every issue related to getting ideas through the funnel and their stage gate processes. It looked very good on paper, but it did not work in the real world. Sometimes you need to keep things simple and leave room for “learn-as-you-go” development.

These are just some quick thoughts on this. It would be great to hear your perspectives on why the front end of innovation continues to be such a big challenge.

You can also check out this group at LinkedIn if you want to get an idea of the issues people discuss on this topic: Front End Of Innovation

Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.

Stefan Lindegaard




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