Front End of Innovation

Last week, I attended the Institute for International Research Front End of Innovation conference and thought I’d share a few themes. The group spent some time over the two days talking about: what innovation is (hint: no one is least no one can truly define it); how you identify it (hint: you really can’t...until the success comes); and how it differs from failure (hint: not much...until the outcome).

However, with some incredible minds presenting, including: A.G. Lafley (CEO, P&G); Peter Guber (Founder and Chairman, Mandalay Entertainment Group); Dean Kamen (Inventor, Founder of FIRST); and several other innovators, many characteristics of the most successful, innovative ideas were shared. Each presenter called these “best practices” something different (to Guber, they’re MAGIC, Motivating your Audience to a Goal Interactively and surrendering Control; to Kamen, they’re Rude Realities and Somewhat Serious Suggestions; and to Lafley they’re Game-Changing principles). Below are five key themes with examples and anecdotes that were shared across the two days that can be applied to corporate or nonprofit cause branding innovation:

  • Face Forward, not Backward: Speaking of the challenges P&G had faced in the past, Lafley warned of an oft-dangerous internal focus. In development of your cause initiatives, remember to stop talking to each other with your “backside to your audience,” and start facing your audience head-on. Interview them, invite them into the development phases and also try to gain some “transactional learning” through market testing, focus groups and ethnography. We must listen to our audience, study our audience, learn from our audience and involve our audience.
  • Exploit Failures and Borrow What Works: Kamen, renowned inventor, advised the rest of the group to “invent as a last resort” and pointed to Picasso’s famous quote, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” In developing your cause initiatives, while no one is actually advocating rip-offs, you must first identify what works, build on it, make it better and then make it your own. At the same time, it is critical to study and learn from our own failures and those of others. We must focus on the weaknesses of competitive or existing efforts and solve for them.
  • Embrace Design as King: Peter Thum, Founder of Ethos Water, realized that before even getting the audience’s attention you must anticipate their question – “what’s in it for me?” He did so by focusing on attractive product design and by showing credible celebrity supporters, like Matt Damon, drinking the product. At the selection stage, ensure your product/call-to-action/cause looks good, so that it is something your customer will look cool buying/doing/supporting. Once they select, we must move on to the challenge of keeping their attention!
  • Highlight the Human Touch: As you can imagine at an innovation conference, much time was spent on science and technology and the excitement and opportunity for revolutionary new ideas. However, in cause communications, as Guber put it, “technology will not save you...everything is analog.” He and others agreed with the continued importance of story-telling (beyond those charts, graphs and pdfs) – good, compelling, simple-to-understand, emotional tales – will help stand out among your audience. For this, we must use right brain thinking and deliver messages by human beings, about human beings and for human beings to resonate!
  • Make it a Marathon, not a Mile: These big thinkers have not seen their success by focusing on incremental improvement. Lafley’s recommendation is to take a “long-term view to keep pace” because otherwise, someone else will beat you to your own end. We must consider truly “game-changing” advancement of business and social issues and develop long-term strategies along with the shorter-term goals that can be revisited, refreshed and measured over time!

These are just a few of the many tips and techniques for cause innovation; share your favorites with us!

--Anne Erhard, Former Vice President


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