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INNOVATION STEP 2- From a hunch to a blueprint: How to improve a good idea that will rally organisational support

Montreal, 15 March 2013


As we argued in a previous blog (Innovation Step 1), finding great ideas requires time, sweat and grit.  They are rarely to be found in suggestion boxes.  Great ideas come from detecting new emerging patterns, unarticulated needs, subtle  market changes, new technologies, critical incidents for the customer, etc.  These are all elements bearing the promise of value for the customer.

Yet most new ideas come to life half-baked, in a rather incomplete form.   They are often just a hunch. They need to add the missing bits and pieces of the puzzle before they can truly rally organisational support.   Time and again we have noticed in our interviews with successful innovators that the critical input of at least three or four people was necessary to shape the original idea into an attractive blueprint.  Not unusually, the brewing period may last from six months to a year.  Sometimes it is much more.  Promising ideas need to be properly nurtured and protected, like seedlings amidst harsh elements.


Consider the actual physical environment of your company and how it plays a determinant role in your innovation ecosystem.  Good ideas need to bounce off in conference rooms, over coffee tables and communal areas.  They need the breathing space of informal forums, where they can enter into collision with other ideas, face positive criticism, dip into informal brainstorming and emerge stronger.  They look for bold connectors of ideas and embrace the arms of serendipity.  They take leaps when they cross-fertilize and interconnect with adjacent fields of expertise.   They slow down through hierarchies, but accelerate via networks.  They thrive in a culture where creative work is valued and risk taking is encouraged.  Few innovation ecosystems possess all the tools, the brain power, the talent resources and the critical insights to grow the original idea into a promising project in a timely fashion.  Sadly, many work environments do not provide the minimal slack in the organisation to leave room for inspiration.  Rather they are  too often about perspiration, squeezing rows of lemons.  This is the desert environment for good ideas to flourish.  As Einstein said, ‘creativity is the residue of time wasted’.


At one point your great idea will need to step out of official boundaries, outside the office walls to snowball.  Bouncing off your idea against the viewpoints of various stakeholders will significantly accelerate the development of your idea.  Prime stakeholders are customers that may directly benefit from your project, and who will highlight what is yet missing in your idea and what is promising.  Doing a round of talking with existing or potential customers will make your idea quickly snowball in the right direction, growing better and connect with the right dots.  Next in the line of important stakeholders are the key opinion leaders in your field, happy to be part of the pool of bright minds that provide new and fresh alternatives.  Finally, the lead users, on the lookout for promising new ideas should be tapped, for  they quickly spot weak lines in proposals and raise the bar. They are great partners for low cost pilot schemes.  Snowballing with your customers will provide a reality check that will prove invaluable when you later promote your blueprint inside the organisation.


New projects create yin and yang in the organisation, in other words both support and resistance.  As resistance (explicit and hidden) builds up faster than support, one must first scout for the path of resistance ahead.   The early steps of promoting a project inside the organisation can be deceptively tricky moments:  enthusiasm usually trumps reality.  Most classical organisations are steel-tempered by task efficiency, process optimisation, deadlines and cost reductions. They throw suspicious looks at new ideas that might just disrupt the established order.

Nevertheless the nurturing and snowballing phases should add enough attractive features to your project to win deliberate support.   At this stage your blueprint should answer a couple of basic questions to overcome the early dissenting voices:

Can the business potential move the needle?

Are market risks manageable?

Is the customer outlook positive:  will the fish bite?

Can the project clear the ROI hurdle?

Will the technical feasibility profile scare the operations people?

Sometimes the promoter may have to address organized stealth resistance that sets out to work against him.  Who might feel a loser in this change?  And who, on the other hand, has a lot to win in a success? Big ideas disrupt.  Short term profit pressure on the business may divert your great idea in the dustbin.   Veto power may easily kill a promising idea.  The promoter needs to display a pro-active strategy to win the day in the organisation and beat the forces of the status quo.  Make sure you are on top of  these points:

Outlining an inspiring vision for your project

Identifying the proper stakeholders

Building a support network of seniors

Planning to manage explicit and hidden resistance.

When passion drives innovation and when due process guides innovation, great ideas can change markets and make the sales needle move.  Step 2 is a critical element of the innovation competence.


André Du Sault

MBA (LBS), MPA (Harvard)

DS&H trains executives to master innovation as a new competence

and helps organisations to boost their innovation performance.

Posted in Innovation & organisation, Management ideas.

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