Innovation is both important and messy. It’s also been researched for decades, and we know there is indeed a universal process on how innovation happens — we call that the Targeted Innovation process.
The process has 4 stages: clarification, ideation, development, and implementation. We’ve written about it before and we use it in a lot of our programs. We’ve found that people tend to have preferences for one or more of these stages, and the distribution of these preferences varies as you look higher on the corporate ladder.
It’s important to note as an innovation leader that all 4 phases need to happen. As a leader you need to sense when you need to spend more time on a phase or move ahead. In reality, you might also go back and forth and iterate between phases. It’s important to keep in mind what we miss out when we underplay a phase, as well as the risks inherent in overdoing it.
Here’s why it’s important to get each of the 4 stages of innovation right:
- Clarify: Not clarifying enough may lead to an innovation that doesn’t resonate in the market because it doesn’t solve the right customer challenge. Doing too much clarification might leave your project stuck in “analysis paralyses.”
- Ideate: Hastily ideating might give you an idea, but maybe the idea is too obvious and you need to push yourself more for the out-of-the box concept, or the kind of idea everyone falls in love with at first sight. Ideating too much could lead to an unrealistic scope or might be diverting from the original challenge you want to solve.
- Develop: Skipping development means you are not fully thinking an idea through. If you aren’t tweaking and adjusting the idea until the high level concept works, you may find yourself redoing your concept or risking having serious issues with it. On the other hand, if you keep developing the idea, it might never get to market because it will be permanently stuck in purgatory.
- Implement: If you don’t scale up and get the market channels ready, you risk making promises to the market you can’t keep. Taking action too early can mean bringing a solution to market that nobody asked for (clarification), with an obvious idea (ideation), that isn’t thought through (development).
Not only is there a universal process of innovation, we also know people tend to have personal preferences towards one or more of these stages. That’s what makes it twice as interesting for people tasked with leading innovation.
Innovation leaders can manage the process, but knowing your team’s preferences can also reveal predictable dynamics, tensions, or blind spots. Gerard Puccio researched these preferences and created the FourSight assessment. We use it in our Driving Results through Innovation Leadership and other custom programs.
I’ve used the FourSight assessment countless times, and a trend emerged: in all workshops I’ve run, there was no preference for — or a negative association with — the development phase, and a strong preference around ideation. it turns out this isn’t just a selection bias of people attending our workshops — there are trends across the leadership levels in an organization. Research by Gerard Puccio and Selcuk Acar reveals that:
- As we go up the corporate ladder, we find stronger ideation preferences — this is the tendency to generate lots of possibilities and think in original ways.
- As we go up the corporate ladder, we also find stronger implementation preferences — this is an inclination towards action and risk.
- The clarification preference stays relatively stable at a high level across the corporate ladder, whereas the development preference stays relatively stable at low ends.
Together, these preferences form the profile of a “driver,” and organizations tend to have a bias towards the driver profile for senior leadership positions.
What does that means? It means at higher levels of the organization, there might be a tendency to move from idea to implementation without sufficient clarification on what problem we’re solving, or without thinking through the solution. Knowing this, senior teams can pay more attention to these phases and make sure team members who advocate deeper clarification and better development are heard.
From Creativity Will Stop You from Being Promoted, Right? Wrong! A Comparison of Creative Thinking Preference Across Organizational Levels (Gerard J. Puccio and Selcuk Acar, 2015)
Check out our 2-day Driving Results through Innovation Leadership program, which delves more deeply into how you can lead innovation at work.