Why the business case is killing innovation

Most business cases outline a problem, some potential solutions, and an investment strategy in the hope of gaining approval. Unfortunately this no longer works.

Innovation is a Process

We know that innovation is more than just a single activity involving a group of ‘creatives’ getting together and inventing wacky but wonderful ideas. Innovation is a deliberate process moving through a number of steps:

  • Understand the problem
  • Clarify your vision of success
  • Develop the right question
  • Create lots of ideas
  • Develop the most promising ideas into solutions
  • Experiment
  • Launch (this is where you should use a business case)

For the sharp eyed amongst you, you may have noticed that we do still use a business case. Okay, so they are useful…just not as a mechanism for evaluating innovative ideas.

Separate Ideas from Solutions

It seems obvious that you should spend time up front defining the problem, understanding what a successful solution would look like (or at least eh benefits it will bring) and making sure you are asking the right question. After all, what’s the point of developing ideas if there is no need for them, or setting off in the wrong direction by poorly framing your ideation question?

But why separate ideation from solution building? Firstly, here is what I mean by solution building. Innovation is all about finding novel ideas which add value, and implementing them. Once we have our ideas, the next step is to flesh out a few high level details. I use a simple solution canvas to do this:

With regular innovation selection processes we might identify pro’s and con’s, or look to  what we’ve done before for clues as to whether or not the idea will work. Decision makers will then invest resources based on their risk profile and their level of confidence in the implementation of the idea bringing in the promised returns.

With the solution canvas, our goal is to identify what the potential impact could be, assuming we can get the idea to work. To help us achieve this, we spend some time identifying potential roadblocks and thinking up ways around them. We might look for previous or related work to try and learn from the mistakes of the past. The key point is to focus on what might happen, and on bootstrapping our way to victory with whatever is to hand.

This is an important shift in focus. And it’s the main reason we definitely do NOT want to develop a business case at this point. If you want innovation to flourish, suspend judgement a little longer and start experimenting. You can seek forgiveness later.

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