Ludwig Melik, Planbox CEO

It is getting a lot more interesting to innovate as the innovation funnel is expanding on both ends. Organizations are realizing that there is more upfront work that must be done before they can even think about generating new actionable ideas. They realize that they have to build an innovation ecosystem once a problem area is selected that is worth exploring. The process to execute a solution finding campaign has also changed and includes a much wider depth and breadth of contributors from a diverse group of participants without which any innovation activity would miss the mark, or significantly impact its true potential.

The Funnel Is Getting Fuller

There are endless opportunities out there for companies to seize. The next big thing is always up for grabs. The principal requirements for success are think big, look wide, remember it is never too late, and keep playing the long game

Bigger Problems Better Payday

Now organizations need to proactively monitor information from a myriad of data sources and be constantly on the lookout for material changes and shifting dynamics in the marketplace. Clues are anywhere and everywhere, and those who learn how to systematically identify and analyze the right data points can be handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Research has no start and no end. New information constantly presents new possibilities and methods. Not only for potentially new innovations, but also existing products and services can identify opportunities for business process optimization, or discover possibilities for an entirely new business model.

Instead of soliciting new ideas, best in class organizations are looking for the right problems to focus on. Rather than just finding simpler problems to solve, leading organizations are searching deep and wide for grand challenges to solve. The level of disruption largely depends on the company’s ability to understand what the information being analyzed indicates, connect the dots between disparate pieces of information, and frame the big picture challenge that is really worth solving.

Connecting the company innovation efforts to the right data sources can serve as an incredible source of insight to drive three key considerations:
What are the problems our organization should focus on solving?
How can we inspire contributing participants to receive the right information by tapping into all available data sources to solve those challenges?
How can we leverage the right information on an ongoing basis as we make progress developing the best ideas to develop and defend our business case?

The Ever Widening Innovation Ecosystem

The focus has shifted away from organizations differentiating and building an economic moat based on creating efficiencies in their supply chain, to driving a competitive advantage based on the strength of the connections and co-creation networks they develop, nurture, and sustain in their innovation ecosystem. This ecosystem itself has been steadily growing to include employees, customers, partners, suppliers, universities, researchers and the start-up community.

The extent of influence that the company will be able to exert, and the level of contribution it can expect, will largely depend on the degree of separation. Starting from the inner circle in terms of its employees and customers and then go outwards from there. The challenge for the organization is to learn how to co-create with its partners and suppliers, as well as to develop the right level of engagement with other participant groups such as universities, start-ups and the general public that can help uncover new problem areas to focus on.

The Funnel is Getting Longer

There are more workflow considerations that companies need to account for as the innovation funnel expands from both ends. Continuous improvement and incremental innovations can flow right through the funnel, and it is a matter of basic blocking and tackling to act on such improvements as efficiently as possible. Higher-risk higher-impact opportunities need to be carefully analyzed and experimented. This should include a concise analysis of long term financial projections and the potential impact of making the investment.

The Funnel is Getting More Connected

Identifying problem areas to focus on, and generating ideas with your innovation ecosystem is just the starting point. There are many connections you need to maintain and build on to properly integrate the design thinking framework in your customer experience mapping journey. Look for opportunities to co-create with your suppliers and systematically evaluate startups.

The Funnel is Getting More Complicated

An increasing level of urgency guides the innovation investment organizations are making as they look to not only protect their core business, but also to find new emerging opportunities that cover a satisfactory range of innovations, which they must pursue before competitors or disruptive market forces catch up with them. Casting a wider net requires better balancing of the types of innovation investments that make up the overall innovation portfolio.

Companies must more carefully categorize and distinguish between incremental and disruptive innovation to make sure they are not viewed and managed using the same approach. The more traditional stage gate approach is used to advance incremental innovations while a lighter, more creative and experimental process is designed to manage the transformational ones. Strong innovators are able to more easily leverage their Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to prioritize their innovation efforts and use the right reporting to weed out the “not important but urgent” that should be discarded/delegated and “not important and not urgent” ideas that are not aligned with strategy. This ensures that the focus remains on the top of the quadrant with a healthy mix between “Important and not urgent” concepts that represent the optimal innovation zone and the necessary in the “Important and urgent” ideas that represent Continuous Improvement (CI).


The Hierarchical Model to Structure Innovation

To accomplish all this there are our four key structures that come into play the “Contributor Breakdown Structure” (CBS), “Innovation Breakdown Structure” (IBS), Work Breakdown Structure” (WBS) and “Information Discovery Structure” (IDS):

CBS is about properly connecting your innovation ecosystem to your innovation efforts. IBS helps to define what the overall innovation portfolio should look like across all the areas of innovation that the organization wants to pursue. WBS creates the right approach to budgeting and tracks experiments for disruptive innovation pursuits. Finally, IDS associates the right content to nurture all these other structures to ensure data guides the right decisions. Here is a representation of these hierarchies resting on the intentions (ideas or concepts) that the type of innovation and all related data points and metrics.



The time has come where you can truly innovate and redefine your business on an ongoing basis. As long as you commit yourself to building out an innovation management discipline that allows your organization to constantly dare yourself with the right grand challenges. These actions will help your organization adapt to a dynamic competitive landscape and changing consumer behaviour.

This article appears in the Winter issue of PointersInnovation Leader‘s bi-annual compilation of the most useful and compelling expert advice.