INSIGHT: Two simple ways to get smart about innovation

“Maybe we’re getting better at solving the problems that actually matter. Maybe we’re getting smarter.”

While expert opinion may be divided on whether the rate of failure for new tech ventures has in fact declined, Jake Sorofman, research analyst, Gartner, has seen far fewer sock puppets skulking around in the wild these days.

“You remember the sock puppet,” asks Sorofman, widely regarded as an industry expert on innovation.

“That charismatic mascot of Pets.com; that doomed effigy of irrational exuberance? Back in the days of Webvan.

“It makes you wonder: where have all the bad ideas gone?”

Sorofman, who’s tech ramblings have become commonplace within Gartner corridors, says this somewhat random thought came up in conversation with colleagues yesterday, “apropos of perhaps nothing other than the flu I was nursing.”

“But look around and you’ll probably agree,” he observes, “despite relatively frothy capital markets these days, there are what seems to be appreciably fewer truly wacky, assertively wrongheaded ideas floating around.*

“It was a fleeting observation that I mostly attributed to feverishness, but then I had a more lucid thought…

“Maybe we’re getting better at solving the problems that actually matter. Maybe we’re getting smarter.”

It’s perhaps a plausible theory, adds Sorofman, considering how much more disciplined the average company has become in its innovation and incubation of ideas.

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In particular, two approaches come to mind.

Iterative innovation

As a software development methodology, Agile has been part of mainstream thinking and practice for quite a while.

But according to Sorofman, it wasn’t until Steve Blank and Eric Reis instigated and then popularised the Lean Startup movement that its first-order application to business strategy became abundantly clear.

“The idea was to start as small as possible, but no smaller, focusing on a minimum viable product (MVP) as both an initial installment of customer value and a market probe for stimulating feedback,” Sorofman explains.

“The simple genius in this Agile-inspired concept is that it forces a discipline that most startups require—the need to earn the right to invest only as proof points and knowledge accrues.

“Iterate through the uncertainty until—eureka!—you’ve built something that customers can’t live without. Only then have you earned the right to scale.”

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