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Innovation is not linear… it’s a conversation

Posted on 30/10/2017

Creating a framework and set of tools to manage and promote innovation.

KTN works closely with companies that create commercial value from innovation across the whole UK economy. Our staff know more about how innovation happens at the individual company level than almost any other organization in the country. And yet while our people use that knowledge every day in their interactions with individual companies and industrial networks, we have done relatively little to capture, codify and articulate our collective experience.

So we are working with other innovation experts to create a guide, rooted in practical experience, to help us to support business more effectively, and to help business to innovate more successfully.

Innovation is not linear, it is a conversation

One of our core beliefs is that innovation is not a linear process. Instead it is a continuous conversation between three facets of a successful business:

  • A customer/market need – an end user trying to solve a specific problem.
  • A product/service – that uses specific capabilities to meet the market needs.
  • The business capabilities – that enable the delivery of the product/service.

To be commercially successful an innovation must satisfy a real market need, with a commercially viable product or service, that can be delivered with the capabilities the business has access to.
An idea for innovation can arise in any of these categories:

  • From a desire to use a technology or capability in a wider range of markets
  • From an unmet need spotted in a target market
  • From an idea for a new product that could better meet an existing market need

Wherever the idea originates, the innovation process will have to answer the questions in the other boxes. There is an ebb and flow in real-world innovation processes, and the final solution emerges from the interaction and tension between the three parts of the conversation.

What are the key factors in successful innovation

At a recent away day in Edinburgh, our 150 staff were asked to identify key drivers and enablers that create an environment where businesses create wealth from innovation. Whilst different groups told the story in different ways, and emphasised different aspects of the environment, a common group of features emerged that can be mapped to the three blocks of the conversation.

This is the landscape that KTN helps companies to negotiate. We connect them to the knowledge and the people who can help them overcome any gaps, combining in-depth expertise across the UK’s industrial sectors with our unique ability to jump fences and link people in different specialist fields.

An Innovation Canvas

There are many problems that need to be solved on the way to a successful commercial innovation. We need a framework that poses the questions that a company must address to manage a process that is often tortuous and unpredictable. Borrowing from the model of the Business Model Canvas, this will be an ‘Innovation Canvas’.

The concept of a canvas is a useful metaphor for the innovation process. Creating a painting often starts with sketching an overall framework. That may lead to filling in some of the elements in detail to see how it works. Sections can be scrapped or overpainted, and new ideas emerge as the painting evolves. It is an organic process combining creativity and vision with technical skill. There are many pathways to a completed work, and although an artist will have their preferred methods, they cannot predict the pathway to the completed painting at the outset.

In KTN’s Innovation Canvas each of the conversation blocks can be divided into sections focused on the major issues that must be addressed in the innovation process:

In the Customer or Market Need block the questions are:

  • Who is the customer we are targeting and what are the needs that we want to address?
  • What is the current market context and how will it evolve over time?
  • How are their needs being met currently by any existing solutions?
  • What are the constraints or rules that we would need to navigate?
  • What value would the customer place on having their needs met?

In the Product or Service block the questions are:

  • What is the innovative product/service?
  • What is its description?
  • What is the basic value proposition for the innovation?
  • How does it meet their needs?
  • What channel will we use to deliver the innovation to the customer?
  • What is the IP position?
  • At what price would this be a viable business for us?

In the Capability block the questions are:

  • What are our internal capabilities?
  • What are our strengths and weaknesses?
  • What future capabilities are anticipated?
  • What external capabilities could we access through partners or the open market?
  • What developments are in the pipeline?
  • How much will the innovation cost to deliver?
Help us develop the canvas…

This is work in progress. The feedback we’ve had to dates suggests that it’s a useful framework; although it has not yet been tested live. We will be working on the model between now and Christmas, identifying tools and approaches that companies can use to help answer the questions in each block.

We’d welcome further comment. Does the canvas fit with your knowledge of how innovation happens? Have we missed a key factor or question? Would you be interested in piloting the application of the canvas in your business or project? If so, then please contact Frank Boyd, a Specialist in Innovation Process, here at KTN to discuss.

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