Realizing Innovation's Full Value

Many of us agree innovation = invention + commercialization.  Commercialization is usually defined aslaunching the ‘invention’ so you and your customers realize value.  But how many of us include how well we’ve extracted the innovation’s value in the market as part of our innovation process?  Probably, not many; it’s just not that easy.  Whirlpool, a long-time innovator, discovered that many of its innovations were not succeeding as planned in the marketplace.  Moises Noreña, Whirlpool’s Director of Global Innovation, was tasked with finding out why and fixing it.  He recently detailed how they went about it.

Moises created a team to focus on the go-to-market aspect of innovation.  They discovered innovations were handed off to traditional market category teams and included in existing product lines.  So, when the innovation didn’t seem to sell well, the usual excuses were given: the product was too expensive, it didn’t work as promised, and consumers need to be converted.  So, what was going on?  Apparently, the innovation & marketplace performance processes were separate and mutually exclusive so products were killed because non-traditional go-to-market options were not explored.  In addition, business leaders frequently confused experimentation with market research leading to unrealistic expectations.  Bottom line? The issues were cultural and process – self-reinforcing both positively and negatively.

A very thoughtful and comprehensive approach was taken to address how to really extract an innovation’s value in the marketplace.  I encourage you to read the details here. Whirlpool’s values were the foundation for all approaches: teamwork, respect, diversity and collaboration.  The approach included selecting the right pilot to test, in this case, a pilot right in Whirlpool’s core – laundry; challenging the status quo; integrating innovation and marketplace performance processes; and having the business ‘own’ and take the lead for the pilot.

The pilot was a success, resulting in the creation of a new process.  Many new insights and ideas were created that translated into actionable opportunities for development, sales and operations with significant revenue potential.  Perhaps more significant were the intangible benefits.  The team’s common pilot experience resulted in a common consumer language, aiding understanding of and empathy with consumers’ issues.  Result? The team started dreaming about other business opportunities with a sense of camaraderie and hope not seen in the standard S&O process.

How can you apply Whirlpool’s learnings to your company? What can you adapt and apply?  Provide your experiences, comments, suggestions in the comment, at Moises’s MiX story or email me.  Let’s leverage each other’s learnings!

Invent, but Don't Innovate?

When I was at Bell Labs, my job was to invent and create, dream up solutions to problems that did and did not exist.  Some of these problems we thought up ourselves, others were ‘given’ to us by AT&T corporate product management and marketing.

For the most part, though, we didn’t get to see problems firsthand--as in, real live customers. At that time, corporate didn’t understand the need for us to see, hear and learn through people. We worked only with empirical data.

This led to a tense relationship between our two organizations – a lack of trust on our part and corporate’s frustration with our constant questions.  The result? Products and services designed more for us than for real customers.

Not a good thing.  There was a clear gap between invention and innovation.

Eventually, for one exciting, highly competitive project, I was able to visit a real live customer – and what a difference that made!  How did this happen? The product manager and I were friends.

It all started with a trusting relationship, at a very fundamental level. It was that simple.  And the project resulted in a patent and a very profitable service for AT&T.

Where are the disconnects in your organization? How can you leverage existing relationships between people in difference functions and areas to increase communication, knowledge flows and learning?

Please share your thoughts and experiences!