At these levels of innovation, many of us get weak in the knees. To do things that have never been done before, or to do things that everyone knows can’t be done clearly takes a different set of skills than the previous levels. There are individuals that have achieved this in the world. To work on such problems the best approach is to get good experienced outside help.

Beyond Consumer Led

It’s also important to note that with rare exceptions such as Einstein, most radical and breakthrough thinking is done in groups. It is true that the gem of an idea may come in an individual but that person has to be supported in an inquisitive and challenging environment. This inquisitive and supporting environment is rarely found within existing organizations. They almost always have to be built from scratch in order to have the correct diversity of individuals with respect to their knowledge and experience. Without such diversity, breakthrough thinking is not likely to happen. Accessing individuals who can serve as a good voice of the customer is also difficult. Lead customers are reliably accurate when it comes to assessing the potential of sustaining technologies, but they are reliably inaccurate when it comes to assessing the potential of disruptive technologies. In fact, as the “Beyond Consumer Led” figure shows, many Level 6 and 7 opportunities come from needs that consumers rarely articulate. Opportunities are also available from customers who are not yet served. Tapping these unexploited opportunities is why breakthrough innovation is so powerful. 

Reach & Range of the Internet

When thinking about the ability to reach customers, the Internet and Internet Connected Devices have greatly expanded a company’s ability to do so. As shown in the “Reach & Range of the Internet” figure, transactions have moved from only being able to be done internally, to now being able to reach almost anyone anywhere in the world. Likewise, the Internet platform has moved from a communication tool of standardized messages to now being able to consummate the most complex cooperative transactions, through both people and autonomous agents. For example, it was the.com boom in the late 1990s that took the lead in redefining business models. Having products and services delivered through small local retail outlets changed dramatically. Superstores came in and dominated the landscape. These were followed immediately by virtual stores. The Internet drove overnight delivery of products directly to consumers’ homes and places of business. From an ideation standpoint, the questions in the center of the graphic are useful in selecting various platform capabilities to use when commercializing a new idea.

Summary of Constraints on Consumption

When it comes to identifying opportunities for breakthrough innovation, a good place to start is to spot constraints on consumer consumption. In the “Summary of Constraints on Consumption” figure, four categories are discussed. These are constraints on skills, wealth, access, and time. Being observant to when these constraints occur in everyday life is a good source of ideas. Another place to look for ideas is to think about the concept of “jobs”. This concept holds that consumers don’t really buy products; they hire them to get “jobs” done. To identify opportunities to create new growth, look first for important jobs that people can’t get done satisfactorily with available products. The way to do this from an ideation standpoint is to create a “Jobs Tree” as shown in the figure (for the case of preventing disease and injury). 

Jobs Tree
Signals of Change

Another way to find opportunities at Level 6 and 7 is to focus on three marketplace signals. These are 1. Signals of Change. 2. Competitive Battles. 3. Strategic Choices. The three corresponding figures show the details to look for in each marketplace signal group. 

Competitive Battles
Strategic Choices

Some problems at this level are called “Wicked Problems”. Characteristics of such Wicked Problems according to Horst Rittel are that they “cannot be exhaustively formulated, every formulation is a statement of a solution, no stopping rule, no true or false, no exhaustive list of operations, many explanations for the same problem, every problem is a symptom of another problem, no immediate or ultimate test, one-shot solutions, every problem is essentially unique, and the problem solver has no right to be wrong”. To solve such problems one has to shift from “problem design thinking” to “purpose design thinking”.

Design-Process
Design-Process
Problem-Based Design Thinking comes from weakness, from need, from fear, from dislike, from hate, from pain, or in reaction to something. In contrast, Purpose-Based Design Thinking comes from strength, from creative urge, from hope, from love, from caring, or by intention. From these characteristics, it is easy to see why the problem-solving methodology for breakthrough innovation differs significantly from that of incremental innovation. According to Harold Nelson, the design process goes through nine steps. These are shown in the “Design Process” figure.

In business, there are usually two elements to a problem. The first is to see the future environment and how people will relate to products and services in that future. From that picture, we can clearly identify gaps and utilize an approach such as brainstorming to fill those gaps with products and services that will build us a profitable business. It is seeing that future clearly that is a Level 6 and 7 activity. This section will address seeing the future first followed by two methodologies that allow one to envision future technologies and services that have never been seen before or can’t be done. We will also explore a business development approach and methodology that focuses on the same types of activities. These examples should give us the understanding and courage to tackle problems at this level.

Testing the Tea Leaves

To address the first challenge, seeing the future, thoughts from Joe Coates are most helpful. His insight and wisdom shows up throughout his lectures and presentations. Joe’s business practice was based on three assumptions: (1) We have the capability to see the future whether it is five or 50 years ahead, with enough clarity and confidence that it is useful for planning. (2) We have to have the capability to intervene in the evolving future to make the undesirable less likely and the desirable more likely. (3) We have the obligation to use these capabilities to anticipate and influence the future. These are bold statements but by using the methodologies outlined in this section it absolutely is possible to see the future with the clarity needed to develop products and services that will intercept trends.

The first way to see the future is to utilize Pattern Analysis which is based on the premise that the future will replicate past events. Examples of this are the famous Moore’s law which shows a regularity of improvements in transistors over a three-decade period. Likewise, the changes in local area network transmission rates over four decades are also a linear progression on a log plot. Such techniques are normally valid when controlling factors are well-defined and relatively constant. The techniques prove most useful when quantitative projections are required. Clearly the use of such techniques requires relevant and accurate data. Where they breakdown is when the forces driving the change are in flux. The general types of Pattern Analysis are: Analog Analysis, which uses one or more analogous situations to project future trends or events. Precursor Trend Analysis, which projects future developments in a lagging technology by correlating them with previous developments in a related leading technology. Morphological Analysis, which envisions new products or services by first defining the essential functions involved in the current product or service and then postulating alternative ways for accomplishing each of these functions in new ways or by combining them. Feedback Models which refine forecasts by giving special attention to the effects of one development on another related development. For example, the increasing adaptation of fax machines increased their perceived value and thus promoted further adoption. 

It is also possible to develop products and services never before contemplated. A way to envision the future is to look at it from different levels of abstraction. The work done by Vanston and Vanston, as reported in Research Technology Management, ties one’s view of the future to the levels of creativity that we’ve been discussing. Level 6 and 7 creativity requires a range of futures or ambiguity as described in the “Testing the Tea Leaves” figure.

Five Views of The Future Strategic Analysis Framework

A methodology to get to alternate futures, i.e. a range of futures, with richer ambiguity is shown in the “Five Views of The Future Strategic Analysis Framework” figure. This method uses five thinking styles. It is a group process because as individuals, we each tend to favor and are likely competent in only one. There are those of us that are extrapolated, pattern analyst, goal analysts, counterpuncher’s, and intruders. We each have our own bias.

The diversity of viewpoints comes from utilizing the complexity of individual thinking styles, working together in small protagonist, antagonist, and synergistic team environments. Thus it is important to seek skilled outside help to facilitate such efforts. It’s important to build out a team with each of the different types of views. This is especially important when one is looking at a range of futures that are truly ambiguous. The hardest part for most of us is to take the first step. We’re working in organizations faced with the true need to reinvent itself, and it takes courage to move into the truly unknown.

Sources of Positive Turbulence

To prepare individuals for participation in the following activities Stan Gryskiewicz recommends that “Sources of Positive Turbulence” be tapped as shown in the figure. All of these sources serve to broaden an individual’s perspective and enhance their tactic knowledge. Such a breadth of experience and perspectives is what makes the below activities rich and capable of producing breakthrough ideas. Note that these sources have to be tapped over time for both individuals and organizations. Tapping them at the last minute isn’t as fruitful. 

How to do a Futures Study

To create a range of futures from a truly ambiguous situation Joe Coates outlines how to do a future studies in the “How to do a Futures Study” figure. When broken down in this manner a difficult process becomes manageable.

Example System to Be Studied

The first step describing a system to be studied oftentimes requires several iterations. An example of such a picture is shown for Packaging in the “Example System to Be Studied” figure. Capturing ideas using butcher paper with large and different shaped post-it notes for the background and elements is a good way to start.

Creating a systems diagram in defining the key elements should be done with both internal and external experts. It takes several iterations to identify all the key actors and stakeholders. Such a picture starts with identifying the driving forces, then identifying the trends that are creating those driving forces. The two examples that follow will show how to explore the potential for change. The “Thinking Expedition” is a good method for discovering inventions, and the “Trend Identification and Analysis” thereafter is a good method for looking at how the world is going to potentially change. What evolves are policies, plans, and specific actions to take. It may seem daunting at first, but when done right these methods do deliver results. The key is to keep Doug Hall’s framework of having “fun” in mind.

Four Phases of Strategic Flexibility

When using forecasted futures in the ideation process, it’s important to remember the “Four Phases of Strategic Flexibility” as shown in figure. Scenario building for ideation in each of the scenarios will be required, however it’s useful to define which future is likely to be “core” and which are likely to be “contingent”. Resource intensive ideation methods, as will be discussed below, should be applied the most likely “core” scenarios whereas for the “contingent” scenarios the lighter weight ideation methods of Level 3 to 5 are likely sufficient, that is until it is observed that the world is in fact moving towards one of those contingent scenarios. 

A program design for how to go through this breakthrough Innovation Process in a more or less conventional manner (in line with traditional management practices) is shown in the following six flow charts. This example project provides the rough timing required, activities involved and outcomes of each activity.

Thinking Expedition Activities to Get the Team to Level 7 Thought

When going through these exercises sometimes one discovers that you need to invent a flying saucer. Finding that you need to do things that haven’t been done or doing things that you really believe can’t be done is a daunting task. To do this in the early 1990s Rolf Smith developed a School For Innovators along with Mike Donohue, then director of the Colorado Mountain School. Their idea was to design problem solving activities along the lines of a “Thinking Expedition”, completely integrated with outdoor mountaineering related problem solving. In a series of a bold experiments in 1993 around real-world challenges facing companies like Exxon, ARCO, British Petroleum, Hoechst Celanese, and Mohawk Carpet, the methodology of the thinking expedition was refined. The objective of the thinking expedition is to take a team of individuals to Level 6 and Level 7 thought required to solve their business problem. To do so a series of activities are undertaken over a period of two to three days. The “Thinking Expedition Activities to Get the Team to Level 7 Thought” figure outlines the activities the team undergoes as it moves through these different levels.

The methodology starts by introducing a team to what a “real world” expedition really is and establishes ground rules for the “thinking” expedition. To do this group activities start at low levels, i.e. thinking about doing things right both within the team room, at work and in one’s personal life.

As the activities progress throughout the day the team moves on to Level 2 thought and starts focusing on doing the right things as a team, and focuses on how to use new thinking tools techniques and processes. The real shift occurs as the meeting moves to focusing on Level 3 thought, i.e. doing things better. Group behavior at this point becomes interesting “mess finding”. This turns out to be hard mental work. Using the subconscious mind is also a key element of this expedition. The expedition takes place over many days in part because it uses sleeping time to let the participants’ minds work on the problems at hand. Level 4 and 5 occupy most of the next day. To build skills, exercises focus on the problem at hand, problems related to the work environment in general, and one’s personal life. Problem-solving techniques are introduced and refined to take each person to higher levels of creativity. The “Map of Thinking Expedition Activities To Get To Level 7 Thought” figure is a pictorial view of how expeditions are run.

The last day of the expedition utilizes human emotions, group dynamics and group diversity in a way that uncovers impossible solutions to problems. The expeditions move companies in to explore new products and business development frontiers. Projects saving tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, and new products worth tens to hundreds of billions of dollars, are often achieved. It is hard work but worth the investment in time and outside resources to do the impossible.

A final observation here as we think about Level 6 and Level 7 creativity is that outside service providers are often critical to the success of a project. Finding competent service providers is another matter however. The best are often small boutique service firms where the principals have experience over many years, working in both large and small organizations. These individuals have acquired the wisdom needed to lead others to successful products and services. Often times the tendency is to migrate towards large well-known firms, but organizations that are typically best for the creative needs of a corporation at Level 6 and Level 7 work are almost exclusively small service provider companies.