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How B2B companies can kick start innovation

Gijs van Wulfen, founder, FOURTH innovation method
Our bloggers have been talking to many innovation consultants and thought leaders lately, and have gathered what is shaping up to be a superb cross-section of ideas, opinions, and recommendations for developing and implementing an innovation strategy in a B2B organization.

There are lot of lessons to be learned from these consultants' experiences. I hope that it will shorten your path to understanding the innovation market and its idealogies, and give you some actionable advice to help you start developing and refining your own innovation strategy.

As we head into the holiday weekend, I wanted to tee up some guidance from another innovation thought leader, Gijs van Wulfen. He's the founder of what he's dubbed the "FORTH innovation method" and is the author of "Creating Innovative Products & Services."

Our Q&A with Gijs dives into what innovation means, whether that definition is different for a B2B vs. B2C company, how a company should foster a culture of innovation, and other advice to help anchor your understanding of an effective innovation strategy. Gijs provided his answers to us in email, which we've edited only for typos.

Can you start by giving us some background on you and what you do?

I am the founder of the FORTH innovation method. This method was developed in practice over several years. It has to do with my own development from a marketer in the food sector into a boardroom consultant creating new top-line solutions to grow the turnover, and later as facilitator of creative processes. I experienced how difficult it was for organizations to come up themselves with new innovative solutions.

That's why I developed a very structured process which is designed as an innovation expedition in which business challenges are transferred into outside-the-box ideas, directly tested at customers and brought back to the company as inside-the-box mini new business cases.

When I started to see how successful this approach was, we gave it the name FORTH and I wrote a book about it in Dutch. People were amazed that I gave away all my knowledge, and are really enthusiastic on using it. It is an innovation best-seller in the Netherlands. Recently an English book on the method, "Creating Innovative Products and Services," was published. With the training of certified FORTH facilitators, the method spreads all over the world.

Innovation means different things to different people. How do you define innovation?

Innovation stands for really different: really different new products, services, or business models which offer a substantially better solution to relevant customer needs.

Do you think innovation mean something different for B2B companies versus B2C companies? Why or why not?

The best innovative ideas start with a relevant customer friction. They play a key role in a perfect innovation process. A customer friction is a discovered need or wish from a specific target group, which is not sufficiently satisfied. It forms the basis for new distinctive product or service concepts. This starting point for innovation is the same for B2B companies and B2C companies. The differences in the innovation approach of this sector are smaller than you might think.

One of the big sub-topics in the innovation space is culture, and the idea of having a culture of innovation. How do you think a company should foster a culture of innovation within its organization?

You have to find the right moment for the company to try to create an innovative culture. Finding the right moment is when people are prepared to go beyond their normal way of thinking and behaving. If you try to innovate too early then there's no urgency. If you do it too late then people are so frightened they can't think clearly and go much less outside the box. They're too frightened of losing their jobs because the company's going broke. Finding the right moment is essential.

Often innovation is defined as "ideation" and "finding the next big idea." But many organizations are searching for the next big idea internally. They might have little ability to have a dialogue with their customers and create an ongoing feedback loop to refine ideas in a moderated and thoughtful fashion, where customers can rate and help prioritize ideas. Are you seeing this?

Yes, I am seeing this. It is essential to connect customers in your innovation process, already at the front end of innovation. In the FORTH method, the customers are connected in the process at two moments. The innovation team is identifying relevant customer frictions in phase two, "Observe & Learn." And after new innovative solutions have been ideated, they are tested with customers in phase four, "Test Ideas." So it is very important to involve external communities in your innovation process.

How important is it to also involve internal communities in the innovation process?

One thing I know for certain is that you have to connect everybody who is in the innovation funnel. Normally, marketing will brief R&D, and R&D will brief production, the buying department, and IT. The ideal innovation team is composed of members from every stakeholder group in the company, typically marketing, R&D, sales and service, IT, production, and central support.

Also, if you're innovating for three continents you have to have the sales directors from the three continents involved. You have to find the experts who are relevant to the assignment and will adequately represent their stakeholder group. You also have to connect the decision makers, like the board of directors and most definitely the CEO. Often the CFO needs to be involved in the review process because probably some investments are needed.

Your approach to innovation is dubbed the FORTH innovation method. What is it, in a nutshell?

FORTH is a customer-oriented innovation method to create mini new business cases with an internal team for innovative products, services and business models. On the one hand it's a highly structured method, but on the other it provides enough space for people to be creative. Every phase has divergence -- generation of many ideas -- followed by a convergence phase where the best innovative concepts are described as mini business cases.

Who would use the FORTH innovation method and for what use cases?

For managers who want to innovate, an internal team using the FORTH innovation method will ideate four innovative products, services or business models. The method leads to concrete new concepts, which are attractive because they have been checked with customers and are worked out as mini new business cases. The concepts have great internal support because your employees have ideated them themselves and customers and decision makers were closely involved.

Can you take us through the five steps of the FORTH innovation method?

FORTH is an acronym. "Full Steam Ahead," the first phase, generates the innovation assignment based on the business challenge and it requires sign-off by the company's leadership if the subsequent four phases are going to be successful.

In order to get new ideas you need new insights, so the second phase, "Observe and Learn," was created. The development of new product or service concepts is the goal of FORTH, and these concepts and ideas are generated in the third phase, "Raise Ideas." We may generate great ideas, but if the company's leaders are unconvinced, it's likely that nothing will happen.

As a marketer I used the voice of the customer for getting my inspiration, and this suggested the fourth phase, which is "Test Ideas." We can test the ideas on customers or conduct other tests, with the final result being a mini business case for each of the best three or four product or service concepts.

In the fifth and final phase, "Homecoming," the mini business cases are presented to senior management with a request that the new product or service be taken up into the company's regular development process. The FORTH innovation method gets great results and is used in production companies, services organizations, and in healthcare.

Thanks, Gijs, for providing your insights.

1 comment:

B2b marketplac said...

i agreed with your point of view on b2b companies. thanks for such as info


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