Executing innovation – more than theory and pretty slides

Julian Eberling
Great ideas are born all the time. Learn how to turn them into a competitive sustainable advantage by executing innovation.
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There are many key ingredients, that contribute to the success of innovations. From having a great creative idea to the right timing, the necessary resources, and the perfect team, it could be anything that leads to the failure of innovation efforts. However, you can have all those things and still not succeed if you fail to make the final step – executing innovation. Let us elaborate.

What does executing innovation mean?

When we talk about innovation management there are two major areas that can be defined. Besides the differentiation between culture, structure and processes, there is also the two ends of innovation – front end and back end. The front end, also known as the “Fuzzy Front End” takes care of strategy, trends, search fields, early projects and first concepts, while the back end of innovation concentrates on development and execution.

Managing the front end is a fine art and essential for successfull innovations to be born. In practice, however, most innovation projects do not fail in this early phase, but in the implementation. An idea is important, but the execution is crucial. Bringing inventions to life, implementing them, taking them to market, testing them, improving them, letting them grow, and at the end of the day developing them from an invention to a true innovation by means of market success – that is executing innovation.

Why is this important?

“Innovation is the only way to win”

Steve Jobs

Executing innovations, not just planning and talking about them, is the only way to gain a sustainable competitive advantage in the market. Particularly in the increasingly rapid development cycles that we are seeing worldwide, the execution of innovative projects is the driving force for both young and established companies. For the economy, executed innovations are the engine of growth. For innovation departments, the subtle difference between innovation theater and innovation management lies in the implementation of projects. Successfully implemented projects is what counts at the end of the day, not purely the high number of ideas and visions.

From theory to practice

Bringing innovation further than pretty slides is of course easier said than done. Here are the three most common setbacks, innovators experience and how to avoid them.

Not starting now

You can’t execute an innovation successfully if you don’t act on it, right? Not getting down to business but letting the concept disappear in the drawer because day-to-day work takes up all the time is a very common challenge amongst entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. Here is a story: Once we had a project within the medical industry. We cocreated an awesome concept for elderly care with real users. We also tested the mockups and concepts with hundreds of people. In the end, we did not go the final step of execution and left it being proud of the nice presentation we did. A year later, a big company from the US launched a very similar concept with immediate success. Now, 5 years later, the product has already generated millions of dollars in revenue.

Sounds familiar? Great ideas are born all the time. An unwritten law says that inventions are made twice in a similar time frame. So when we work on something, we should not make the mistake of feeling safe about it, thinking that we are the only ones who have that idea. In the end, who executes wins. The learnings? Act now, set a clear structure, define responsibilities and don’t let someone else “steal” your idea!

Forgetting about the user

This is another very common mistake with both first-time and experienced innovators. It is only human to find your own ideas great and to love them. However, it should not be about you but about the user. The customers must be integrated early in the implementation to minimize the risk of flopping. Utilize user-centered approaches like design thinking to come up with a real problem and solution. Before investing resources into a “great idea”, don’t forget to test your assumptions. The process of idea validation is crucial for de-risking innovations.

Going straight full-on

Of course you should be very serious and enthusiastic about your idea. What you should not do, however, is wanting to do everything at the same time and finish as fast as possible so no one beats you to it. It is better to work iteratively during implementation and approach the final product step by step via different stages of development. In this way, you can ensure that you only invest a minimum budget and incorporate customer feedback immediately. If everything has already been implemented, changes are time-consuming and often expensive.

Conclusion

In conclusion if you want to successfully execute innovations, you should include your user in the process, do it step by step, and most importantly start now. Don’t be emotional about feedback and don’t forget this is not a linear process. You should invent, test, improve and repeat. At TheVentury we work in 4 different stages to reduce risk in the innovation process: explore, envision, validate, scale. We build our way up from the user to the product and not vice versa. Our powerful Data and Software Engeneering team develops digital innovations and our Growth Marketing experts help products, well, grow. Let us know if we can support you with your idea, and execute innovations together.

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