Five Key Innovation Questions to Ask

Five Key Innovation Questions to AskThere are plenty of reasons to innovate. Especially now more than ever before, sustained Innovation is the means to developing marketplace showstoppers that lead to profitable growth. Innovation is not a luxury that can be placed on the back burner, even for today’s successful companies. So before beginning your next innovation effort, here are some key questions to consider for mapping out an effective innovation plan.

1. What type of innovation does your organization need?
The key to implementing innovation is first defining the type your organization needs. The hardest kind of innovation to manage is Breakthrough – which creates an entirely new way to deliver value. Few and far between, these game changers hold the greatest potential for business success. Most innovations are incremental, which can mean a tweak on an existing product, process, or service. Examining how your innovation effort fits into the current organization’s needs is critical at this go/no go checkpoint. (There is nothing wrong to focus and start with Incremental Innovation or Line Extensions, get some early wins, get the organization engaged and excited and create a structured repeatable process)

2. Does your innovation satisfy customer needs?
Customer demand affects the successful outcome of your innovation. Beyond asking your customers what features they would like to see, ask them what their biggest concerns are and that will help shed light on the products and functionalities they require for a more successful innovation.

3. Who are your innovation champions?
The innovator-in-chief needs to truly champion this culture and drive it throughout the organization to make it happen. In order to defeat the devil’s advocates and become an agent for change, the leader must democratize the innovation process and select a group of people from different business groups, different backgrounds, and different skill sets joined together for a common purpose. He or She must engage, walk the talk and cannot just delegate the spiritual leadership. The companies with inspirational innovation leaders stand out with their results i.e Apple, Kohler, etc.

4. How will you measure success?
Innovation is ultimately about Return on Investment. It’s critical to use leading and lagging Key Performance Indicators, observe and measure time spent on each segment of the new product development (NPD) process to see how it’s progressing. Leading Metrics used in the industry can include ideas generated, ideation sessions held, number of patents filed, and for lagging new products released, and percentage of sales due to new products.

5. How will success be rewarded?
With successful innovation comes profitable growth and a win-win situation for shareholders, employees, and customers alike. Incentives are needed for all participants on your NPD staff, and often times the key motivator is less financial than it is about recognition for a job well done. Motivation does not have to be about money – but it is necessary, so reward your people. They are your best innovation resource.

By focusing effort in the right places, companies can avoid oversight and increase their chance of innovation success. For more tips, see “Robert’s Rules of Innovation.”

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robert brandsRobert Brands is the founder of, and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival,” with Martin Kleinman – published Spring 2010 by Wiley (

Robert F Brands




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