A New Model to Start Innovation


WoW. I am so happy and honoured that my book ‘The Innovation Maze‘ (in Dutch) has been awarded as ‘Management Book of The Year 2017’ by Managementboek.nl. That’s why I am sharing with you the following highlights of The Innovation Maze.

15 obstacles are hindering innovation at its start

As speaker on innovation I have been traveling around the world meeting innovators, managers and CEOs in different cultures: from Canada to Cape Town; and from Turkey to Tokyo. I start my workshops asking them the direct question, “What are your main struggles at the start of innovation?” From all these workshops I identified fifteen obstacles which may block you during the fuzzy front end along the path towards a successful new business case:

  1. Unclear strategy
  2. No priority for innovation
  3. No market need
  4. No insights or inspiration
  5. No time
  6. Lack of resources
  7. No internal support 
  8. Politics
  9. Insufficient skills
  10. Fear of failure
  11. No fit
  12. Too slow
  13. Not feasible
  14. No business model
  15. Not original

Innovation starts with an idea, a technology, a problem or a business issue

Now we nailed all the problems at the fuzzy front end, let’s work on the solution to unfuzzy it. The way innovation starts is diverse. There are four common patterns how you start innovation.

  1. You start innovation with a idea, like Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia of AIRBNB. When a major design conference came to town in 2007, they saw an opportunity to earn some extra cash by renting out their spare floor space. In no time they had put together a website advertising lodging for overnight guests which they called “Airbed and Breakfast”.
  2. You start innovation triggered by technology, like Google X research lab, which explores new technologies beyond Google’s core business, with for example their Google Glass experiment.
  3. You start innovation to solve a problem, like two students in Sweden, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin. The prospect of being forced by law to wear a bicycle helmet caused them great concern, as they wouldn’t “be caught dead wearing a polystyrene helmet.” They started developing a bicycle helmet that people would be happy to wear.
  4. You start innovation because your business needs to innovate, like toy-producer LEGO when in 1998 they generated their first loss in the company’s history. In response to this crisis, the company announced the lay-offs of 1,000 employees and put innovation on their agenda.

The front end of innovation ends with a well-founded new business case

I learned that to convince the management of an organization or (in)formal investors to let your innovative idea enter the formal development process and give you the resources needed, you must bring to the table a well-founded convincing new business case. Now the crucial word in the last sentence is ‘convincing’. This means you really must know your stuff. In the boardroom your idea will be evaluated from at least four perspectives:

  • The customer: will they buy it?
  • The technology: can we deliver it?
  • The business model: will it pay off?
  • The risk: What if it’s a failure? What if it’s huge success?

The board will demand tangible proof before making a decision. That makes the front end of innovation so challenging and intensive. In practice it will take at least ten activities to take you to this desired outcome in a structured way.

10 essential activities to unfuzzy your front end

  1. Ideate: Generating and choosing original relevant ideas for a product, service, process or experience.
  2. Focus: Defining your innovation center-of-interest including all the boundary conditions.
  3. Check Fit: Checking if your idea, technology, customer issue or business challenge fits your personal and corporate priorities.
  4. Create Conditions: Organizing the right moment, the right team, the right pace and the right funding for your innovation initiative.
  5. Discover: Discovering trends, markets, technologies and customer insights.
  6. Create Business Model: Creating a viable business model.
  7. Select Technology: Identifying and selecting the right technology to deliver your new product, service, process or experience.
  8. Check Freedom to Operate: Checking if you do not infringe intellectual property rights of others.
  9. Experiment: Carrying out a systematic research or test which validates the adoption and attractiveness of your new product, service, process or experience.
  10. Create New Business Case: Creating a well-founded convincing business case for your new product, service, process or experience.

Pick the Right Route and Stay flexible

In ‘The Innovation Maze’, you find both the 15 obstacles and the 10 activities essential for the start of innovation. The maze has four entry points.

  1. Idea – A rough business idea or a great business opportunity
  2. Technology – A new technology that sparks innovation
  3. Customer problem – A problem or a pain point
  4. Business challenge – An external or internal change that jeopardizes the future of the business

Each of the four innovation routes contains all ten activities. The great news is that whether you start with an idea, a technology, a customer issue or a business challenge you can use the same activities and the same tools. The order in which the ten activities are undertaken depends on how you start innovation. Be aware that doing things in the right order has a huge impact on the effectiveness.

Here’s an example of the Idea Route:

You can download a free pdf of all the 4 four routes.

Wishing you lots of success navigating the innovation maze.

Do you like this post? Then, check out Gijs van Wulfen’s new innovation bestseller at: Amazon UK or Amazon US.


[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_product_development#Fuzzy_Front_End

[ii] Prof. Dr. Cornelius Herstatt, Dipl.-Ing. Birgit Verworn, August 2001,


30 Inspiring Insights into Innovation

Gijs van Wulfen

Yes, Innovation is extremely difficult. You are not the only one who thinks it’s a real challenge. It has been a struggle for me the last 30 years as manager, consultant, facilitator and as founder of the FORTH innovation method. That’s why I love it actually. Because I love to do difficult things. My personal goal is to make innovation less complex so others will be able to innovate their product – and service portfolios and organizations – themselves.

As one of the first Linkedin Influencers I have written 138 posts about innovation the last 30 months. I reread them to identify my most essential statements. Some are provoking. Others are simplifying. Being Dutch makes me kind of outspoken and bold.  Here’s a list of quotes from my LinkedIn innovation articles. Please use them to discuss innovation with your colleagues and clients and to lead your organizations in innovation:

  1. In the long run a company cannot survive on doing the same things better and cheaper.
  2. Most managers behave like dogs. They bark at what they don’t know.
  3. Managers say yes to innovation only if doing nothing is a bigger risk.
  4. Innovation moves forward in every sector whether your company moves with it or not!
  5. Continuous innovation is bullshit. You only innovate when you have to.
  6. Organizations frustrate innovative employees.
  7. Starting innovation is like a child starting to walk. Learn to love the struggle!
  8. If there’s no urgency innovation is considered as playtime.
  9. Most people only innovate when they have to. Pick the right moment.
  10. Innovators need the patience of a hunter to wait for a shot that you’re sure you can make.
  11. Never start innovation with an idea. You will fall in love with it. But love is blind.
  12. A big idea is a new simple solution for a relevant problem or dream.
  13. The best innovators are need seekers.
  14. The problem of brainstorms is the inability of people to let go of the old ideas.
  15. If you don’t get new insights you won’t get new ideas.
  16. For most companies evolutionary ideas are quite revolutionary.
  17. You can invent on your own, but in an organization you can never innovate alone!
  18. The most important role of an effective innovator is to reduce uncertainty, moving from idea to launch as most people involved, co-workers, managers or investors are risk averse.
  19. Think outside the box and present your idea inside the box otherwise nothing will happen.
  20. Innovators should bring back new business not new ideas.
  21. Nobody buys innovation from a clown so bring back a new business case.
  22. The voice of the customer is your best support for a new concept.
  23. Innovators should stop writing plans. Innovation is learning by doing.
  24. Innovation does not stop at the first “No”. That’s the moment it really starts.
  25. It’s not how innovative you are. It’s how you are innovative!
  26. Less creative ideas are better because they have a higher chance of becoming reality.
  27. An organization is just like a herd. Focus on the slowest animals. When they start running too your organization really gets innovative.
  28. People prefer evolutionary innovations over revolutionary innovations because they can be implemented faster with less perceived risk and less resources needed.
  29. Operational Excellence brings you the profits of today. Innovation excellence will bring you the profits of tomorrow.
  30. To innovate is a verb. Stop talking. Start doing.

I hope some of them are helpful to you. Wishing you lots of success on your innovation journey.

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