Before releasing the findings of our survey on innovation in D-A-CH we had an argument on about how to title them. Initially we thought about „too little, too late“. However, that seemed a bit harsh. So we ended up with „room for improvement“.

But then – often it really is too little and too late. Especially when you look at it from the bottom-line-focused perspective of C-level management. Not judging the effort, but evaluating the outcome.


Figure 1: Too Little – Percentage of innovations that have become a market success (respondents’ estimations)

What are we, the innovators, asked to do to improve our poor performance?

First – let´s reflect and understand, what we actually have been doing (if you already know – please jump to „5 highly effective practices“ at the end of this post). Many innovations do not qualify as innovations. They are basically inventions and/or optimisations of existing product functionality.

In this respect, our European inventive strength – especially in Germany – might turn out to be a major weakness. One that consumes substantial business resources, yet does not contribute substantially.


Figure 2: Too Late – Share of innovations to reach the market at the planned release date (participants’ estimates)

So let´s ask ourselves how we got to this point.
The short answer is, as businesses we asked the wrong people the wrong questions. That way we either ended up careening off the road by slavishly following our customers’ wishes. Or – taking the opposite direction – we followed a strong “inside-out” approach, where what was feasible, understood, and within our technical capabilities got built.

The analysis of more than 3000 true innovations suggests that there are at least 9 more types of innovation beyond the pure product (cf Keely 2013).  And that successful innovations on average consist of a mix of 3,6 types out of the 10 Types.

By following waterfall- and stage-gate models we also excelled in unidirectional procedures, focused on taking internal hurdles. We pushed ideas through a manufacturing process to become products. Here the idea and concept – there the execution.

You probably realise this. It might be an explanation for your current challenge.
Need a way out? Allow me to suggest 5 highly effective practices that will change your situation:

  1. Know and understand the structure of your innovation in relation to the ten types (we’ll be happy to assist, if you don’t know where to get started).
  2. Find the right problem to address with the innovation you’re working on. Change your mode of operation. Integrate methods from Design Thinking into your approach towards problem finding.
  3. Leave comprehensive requirement documents behind and start to interactively and iteratively model with your peers and partners using various canvas types.
  4. Reframe your vision for the product from being just a good into being a business on its own, by at least considering all ten types of innovation.
  5. Recast yourself as a person with endless passion for the product, instead of just being an excellent project manager. Try to live both roles – but allow the passion for the product to drive the process.