Thoughts on Tom Fishburne’s “Innovation Funnel”

Good cartoon and post by Tom Fishburne. It can be found in its entirety here. Most businesses have learned they need to put teeth in the upfront screening of new ideas because it becomes more expensive to kill ideas later down the funnel. But there are numerous sharp “teeth” all along the innovation funnel where even the best of ideas can be torn to shreds.

Innovation is subject to internal bias. For example, it’s hard to distinguish the good ideas from the bad in the early stages. Usually the innovator is the primary champion and can be biased by unrealistic hopes as well as the pressure to perform in the job. And quantitative testing isn’t always a reliable predictor at this stage either.

Second, ideas become subject to the whims and tendencies of the established organizational culture. If your culture is biased to commercialization, then new ideas can have their unique edges “sanded off” for the sake of perceived efficiencies. And risk-averse organizations (usually code for commercialization-biased) tend to work against bigger, bolder innovations preferring simple line extensions instead.

Another problem is “functional bias”. NPD is charged with getting the ideas to market and will push even questionable innovations because they are incented to do so (sometimes rationalized as needed to create “new news”). Manufacturing, who is in charge of delivering productivity each year, knows their primary source of savings comes from new products; not from mature product lines. They are biased to innovations that barely pass the ROI hurdles because they know it gives them a bigger pool of savings later on. And the demand planners… well new products are the most unpredictable in the portfolio so they have biases, too.

These biases apply not only to new product innovations but to any innovation in the Value Creation FunnelTM: strategy, productivity, organizational design, financial, etc. In the end, companies that successfully innovate are doing so because they are designed to be innovative. If a company hasn’t stepped back and designed their innovation process to deliver better results, then they’ll keep getting what they’ve always gotten.

Many thanks to Tom Fishburne for his cartoon and post this week. You can find him here or follow him on Twitter here.