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3 Steps to Eliminate the Innovation Frame Factor

In this ever-changing marketplace, innovation is crucial to an organization’s survival. The ability to anticipate the needs of a target market and provide a unique and novel solution is the ultimate goal for CEOs. Yet, between 2006 and 2008 only nine percent of for-profit companies were active in product or process innovation, according to the National Science Federation. In an era where the average corporate lifespan has plummeted to just 40 years, avoiding innovation is inexcusable. But before you jump head first into innovation, there’s something you should be aware of: The Innovation Frame Factor.

The Innovation Frame Factor is defined as the tendency among individuals and organizations to inhibit the innovation process by enlisting an overly narrow frame of reference. The corporate landscape if scattered with examples of companies that have created artificial boundaries or limitation to innovation, based on historical patterns and precedents. Just look at Kodak, rather than framing innovation based on the trends and needs for photograph sharing and storing, the company focused their innovation investments solely on selling more film. Similarly, Borders completely missed the e-reader trend, focusing on how to ship and sell more bound books, rather than focusing on how to get books in front of readers. Short-term financial pressures and volatile economic trends make it even harder for organization to expand their view of what’s possible, but history shows that this is the ideal environment for game changing moves. As a result, we say the first step in any strategic innovation process must be to eliminate this effect.

To put it simply, you need to adjust and expand the parameters under which you currently think about innovation – go outside your comfort zone. While it sounds simple, it’s proven time and again, to be one of the greatest obstacles in innovation discovery. For example, a leading defense company which wishes to remain anonymous used this very process, resulting in one of its innovations being named to TIME Magazine’s 2012 list of the Best Inventions.

Here are three steps to help you expand your frame and eliminate the Innovation Frame Factor in 2013:

1.) Consult an External Innovation Agent

An outside perspective is invaluable in the innovation process. That agent can be a vendor, former business partner, client/industry panel or an outside consultant that works side-by-side with you at each stage of the process. Regardless, the external point of view can provide a wealth of knowledge and perspective.

Like most organizations, the defense company’s initial frame was far too limiting. The company was looking for concepts that fit directly into its business units and that would provide significant short-term return. The reality is, groundbreaking innovation isn’t going to fit neatly into any category. And novel ideas require time to develop. But rather than spending time trying to convince the executive team of that, we instead educated them on the greater importance of alternative criteria, such as the discovery of a new customer need and groundbreaking solutions to those pains. By creating an innovation scorecard that ranked these items more heavily than short-term return or business unit correlation, the company considered concepts more broadly and objectively.

2.) Audit Your Skills & Capabilities

The next step in expanding one’s innovation frame of reference is to strategically review one’s existing skills and capabilities. Rather than focusing innovation discovery on the core service areas of your company, look more broadly at your capabilities and consider the innovation potential at each step.

For example, the defense company struggled to consider its peripheral skills or services as adoption for innovation. However, with the support and redirection from the external innovation agent, the team began thinking outside the box. One of the team members highlighted the company’s unique ability and experience with GPS tracking as a potential area for innovation discovery. This direction planted the seed for an unlikely, but incredible invention.

3.) Conduct an Opportunity Assessment

Finally, organizations need to conduct an objective, in-depth product/service opportunity assessment, based on the identified capabilities. The CEO needs to think about how his team’s existing skills can be used or applied in a new way.

The defense company identified thousands of concepts through the discovery process, but one idea proved to be an industry game changer. The innovation applied the company’s existing GPS expertise to the fishing industry. Together with Kampachi Farms, a Hawaii based fish producer, the company advanced this concept with a mobile fish farm. This not only answered an industry need for increased fish farming, but it did so in an environmentally sustainable way, winning it a much deserved place on both the company’s and TIME Magazine’s list of the Best Inventions.

If the defense company had used their original frame of reference during the innovation discovery process, the mobile fish farm and many other profitable ideas would have never been uncovered. Don’t let your company fall victim to the same pitfall. Stack the odds in your favor, and eliminate the Innovation Frame Factor. What industry need can your company answer?


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