If you’ve read any business book in your life, it’s painfully obvious that the industry has been trying to offset the problem of relying on predictive business plans to innovate, (a) forever and (b) without much success. Everything that has been written about business has been connected to this conundrum.

Innovation is unpredictable, yet businesses need to forecast the cash flows. Bummer. Cue in decades of hit-and-miss methodologies and a lot of wishful thinking — yes, being polite right there.

Startups, the proverbial healing balm

After the 2008 crisis, startups have emerged as a simple solution to everything. With cheap capital flowing in the global economy, raising money based on a 20-minute pitch was the new normal. Need to innovate with your old, slow-moving multinational? Sure, JUST start to think like a startup. Act like Amazon, AirBnB or Tesla would — which yes, as it seems, even works to send satellite in geostationary orbit.

To be fair, by now we probably all made fun of the startup craze that went through all industries.

But mocking the fancy innovation spaces that look like TV-commercial millennials have redecorated your local tax administration with unlimited access to Etsy, is easy. What we are refraining to admit though, is that we’ve also seen new innovation processes emerging. Thinking-like-a-startup™️ now comes in a boxed set of tools, manuals and training certifications.

Saying things like « Guys, we’re too focused on getting to the MVP without proper RATs. » Is the new normal. Which you will immediately translate if you’ve been involved in innovation in your company. You KNOW what is a minimum viable product, it’s part of the new standard kit.

And the riskiest assumption test? Maybe you’re lagging a bit behind and are not yet onto what the cool kids are doing. But don’t fret, you’ll get trained soon enough and relearn how to properly think like a startup.

Process disillusionment

The irony remains though. The innovation conundrum for large companies is not solved. Innovation as « changing the market » won’t fit in your process. Not that these processes are useless or plain snake-oil — don’t get me wrong, many of them are. It’s just that these processes are outdated the day they are adopted by everyone.

Take design thinking that gets a lot of flack these days. Yes, as a mainstream process in the industry, it has become a parody of itself. And as for any innovation process your team will go through the standard cycle of disillusionment:

  1. Outcome frustration: « We’re not getting anywhere after our 2-day- design thinking sprint, it’s not working. »
  2. Process reformulation: « We’ve been explained that we’re not doing it well enough, it’s now obvious we need to do RATs before thinking MVP. »
  3. Looming doom: « Guys, it’s been two years and the exec committee wants to know what we do with all the post-it’s. »
  4. Hopeful reboot: « Clearly, this process was a huge mistake, but now we know that we should do Lateral-customer-prototyping™️, let’s get trained on this and then deploy it in the company. »
  5. See 1.

But 2020 is going to shake things up.

The big shake

Your innovation process cycle of disillusionment will be impacted by something big: startups are not trendy anymore.

Maybe you’ll get the memo this year, maybe you’ll need until 2022 to cycle from 1. To 4. I don’t know. What I know is that you will have a once in 10-year opportunity to deeply reassess how you deal with innovation as a process.

In any case, I would suggest that you start to calmly spread 3 questions around you:

(Q1) Can we fit all innovation projects in the same innovation process?

Hint: Projects have different types and levels of uncertainty.

(Q2) When our competitors have been trained to adopt the same tools and methodologies we have, how can we not all go in the same directions?

Hint: What’s your company culture deep down?

(Q3) Having an innovation process makes sense because we need some level of control, but how do we know if there is too much control in the end?

Hint: Innovation is not linear and can’t go through stage-gates all the time.

This is a very good news. Probably a unique chance to reboot not just your innovation process, but the innovation culture in your company. Bad news? You might just have a few months to do so…

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