Improving Global Front End Innovation

Author: Charlotte Hughes | Source: HCI | Published: March 7, 2013

“Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.” - Bill Gates
As the co-founder and current Chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates is a proven authority on the topic of innovation. He acknowledges that over the years Microsoft has had huge hits and misses in product innovation. While Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office and Xbox are market all-stars, other products have not been so well-embraced. The Windows Tablet, MSN search engine, and SPOT watches failed to catch on. Misjudging the timing of precisely when to innovate, and the quality of the idea generation process, are key factors in the success or failure of market innovations.
The Innovator’s Paradox
A book enlightening on this topic is The Little Black Book of Innovation by Scott D. Anthony. It outlines a four-week program that a leader or team can follow to think, perform and execute more innovatively. In the book, Scott describes what he calls, “The Innovator’s Paradox.” This paradox occurs when one has the ability to change, but doesn’t feel the urgency. When the situation changes and the need to innovate is critical, one no longer has the ability. Successful innovation hinges on timeliness, and being proactive about the environment you are in.
Scott suggests three steps to overcome The Innovator’s Paradox:

  1. Create a short list of early warning signs that suggest the need for change
  2. Run a scenario – look at what will happen if you don’t change and innovate right now
  3. Write a Pre-Mortem – a letter to yourself from 5 years in the future explaining  everything that went wrong

Front End Innovation – Idea Generation
Often, the innovation process jumps off track at the “fuzzy front end,” the beginning of the search for new ideas that can be applied to products, services, or business strategies. It’s not just about brainstorming, but a creative and an analytical process to better explore customer needs, gather insights, and collaborate to create solutions.
Innovative ideas can come from SWOT analysis, market and consumer trends, internal R&D departments, focus groups, employees, salespeople, competitors, trade shows, or ethnographic discovery methods (searching for user patterns and habits). They can also come from concepts that were developed and tested in the past, but were never acted upon.
Kimberly-Clark Case Study
Over the past two years Kimberly-Clark has transformed its front end innovation process. The business goal driving the initiative was to grow the number of $1 billion dollar global brands from five to ten. Most of the work concentrated on improving how previous innovative ideas, concepts, and research are organized, stored, and made globally accessible for others in the company to reuse. The objectives included the ability to provide insights on the data; how and why ideas have evolved over time, and leverage a global network of innovators. The company operates in 36 countries and in the past there were challenges in collaborating globally that hindered the innovation process.                         
The value of Kimberly-Clark’s innovation portfolio has grown by 75% over the past two years.  At the same time, the company has successfully increased its number of billion-dollar brands from five to seven, with the goal of ten still in reach. In this on-demand webinar, Cor Bosselaar, Director of Global Innovation Capabilities and Processes at Kimberly-Clark, shares how the company dramatically improved the front end innovation process with a central, global collaboration tool and process.
Innovation Within Reach
To improve the odds of successful innovation, it’s important to know when it‘s time to innovate and how to maximize the front end process for business results.  The quality of the process and the network of people using the tools can significantly impact performance.  Innovation goals are within reach when using proven steps to jump start and maintain the collaborative process.          
Charlotte Hughes is a Senior Learning and Development Consultant with Kimberly-Clark where she is responsible for helping human resources and business leaders with performance improvement and learning solutions that drive business goals. Charlotte has held key talent development roles with other Fortune 500 companies including; Morgan Stanley, Cox Enterprises, and SunTrust. She has a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Master’s degree from New York Institute of Technology. Her blog TalentFocus provides news and commentary on leadership, learning & development and talent management.