August 13, 2019

Innovation is hard. It’s messy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is doing something different. Generating early momentum can be the trickiest part of all — particularly making sense of all the tools, methodologies, best practices, and thought leadership that criss-cross today’s innovation zeitgeist.

Truth be told, there is so much noise out there, the word innovation is almost meaningless. Yet, it still frequently gets thrown around large organizations to generate excitement. But recognizing your organization needs to change is not the same as changing it.

And recognizing that innovation — the invention of a new technology/product/service — is not the same as actuallydelivering/fielding something that’s needed and wanted with speed and urgency.

So let’s say you are serious about delivering/fielding. You are sick of the same old, tired way of solving problems, which increasingly leaves your organization falling further behind. Your motivation is not professional vanity or innovation theater. You understand that systematic innovation means connecting invention to adoption via a disciplined framework.

#1 Read “Five Reasons Your Boss was Right to Shut Down Your Innovation Lab” by Tendayi Viki. Then read “What Your Innovation Process Should Look Like” by Pete Newell and Steve Blank. Then read “The Red Queen Problem — Innovation in the DoD and Intelligence Community” by Steve Blank. These insights will warn you of the common pitfalls ahead and ways to avoid them by establishing a foundational understanding of disciplined innovation.

#2 Sketch an innovation workflow (or “pipeline”) for your organization. How do you define targets for innovation? How do you validate the fit between new ideas, problems and proposed solutions, and ultimately transition them to full production? Basically, how does an innovation project start and finish, and what are the steps in between? As an example, here’s an early draft of the pipeline drawn for the US Army Rapid Equipping Force in 2012.

The original US Army Rapid Equipping Force Pipeline — 2012

#3 Determine where and how the outputs of your pipeline fit with related efforts within your organization and vice versa. Estimate how many things you need coming into your pipeline versus how many you’ll deliver/field. (If it’s 1-to-1 you’ve confused an innovation pipeline with contracting.)

#4 Figure out how you intend to collect ideas, problems, and technologies — the starting point for any innovation system — and how you will prioritize those worth spending time and resources to explore further.

#5 Identify the decision points, leadership requirements, and decision-support tools you will use to determine what moves from one phase of your innovation pipeline to the next.

#6 Assess your capacity for innovation, and be brutally honest. The identified shortcomings are clogging your organization’s capacity to innovate, and they likely need some immediate plumbing. This briefing coupled with BMNT’s Innovation Pipeline Self Assessment provide a great roadmap to start with.

#7 Identify and fix the low-hanging fruit from the self-assessment, then prioritize the rest as you design version 2.0 of your innovation pipeline.

#8 Identify and define key users, beneficiaries, supporters, advocates, saboteurs, partners, and the critical pathways within your pipeline — and then get out from behind your desk to solicit feedback from key stakeholders, gain their unique perspective (positive or negative), learn from it, and adapt.

#9 Repeat steps 5–7 until you have a validated business model for your innovation pipeline, one that delivers real, tangible value to your organization.

#10 Execute your model while continuously assessing your efforts and your impact.

The key is to explore what your organization really needs. Discover what works and what does not. Generate myriad hypotheses to test, and let the data and evidence guide your early decisions.

Recognize that at the beginning, you’ll be in search mode. Most likely, no one in your organization has taken a disciplined approach to innovation, so while goodness exists, this will feel chaotic, and you and others will step outside your comfort zone. But it’s necessary to chart your own path to truth.

Provided you have the right framework, and understand that innovation is not consistent with endless brainstorming, casual decor, and buzzwords, the above starter kit will help. It will be hard. It will be messy. But if you follow these steps, you’ll be on the right track.

BMNT is an innovation company headquartered in Palo Alto, CA; with offices in Los Angeles, Boston, San Diego, London and Washington.

Pete Newell is CEO of BMNT.

Brian Miller is Director of BMNT’s Intelligence Portfolio.