The Power of Pro-active Innovation

ProactiveWhen it comes to innovation, there are two distinguishing features of innovative "masterminds". First, these high performance innovation experts recognize great ideas effectively and accept that they can and should come from anywhere and anyone, and second, they are continuously developing ideas to produce a stronger flow of innovations than everyone else.

The first difference is pretty easy to adopt. In organizations ideas are constantly being shared and evolved by employees. The only thing you need to do is harvest all the ideas, assessment them, develop the best ones, and successfully market them. Pretty easy to adapt to might be a bit of an enthusiastic statement, but the ideas are there and by creating an Innovation Masterplan along with proper process management and innovation management software to support the process, you will be guaranteed to create innovation. 

However, if you are striving to become an innovative and leading organization, just grabbing the ‘floating ideas’ is not nearly enough. It is important and even mandatory for your organization to start creating innovation proactively. To do this, you’ll need to create a base for pro-active innovation, which can be accomplished by using 4 steps of the Agile innovation sprint: Need finding, modeling, ideation and prototyping. 

Need finding

Before you start innovating, you’ll need to remember who you are doing it for: Your customer. Ideally your innovative solutions are pulled in by your customer instead of pushed onto them by your company. You should strive to have them see it as a service, not a sale. That’s why it’s essential for the success of your innovations to identify their needs, behaviors, motivations and attitudes. Even those that customers have, but might not be aware of, and are therefore unable to suggest themselves. One technique that has proven very effective in revealing the hidden needs of customers is ethnographic research. Ethnographic research uses empathy to find out how people live their lives. On their terms, not yours! By observing and understanding how people live, you’re able to discover hidden needs and values that will prove to become the foundation of your pro-active innovation. 


After collecting the ‘raw’ needs of your customer it’s time to analyse the results and look for explanations and patterns in their behaviour. How are they making their choices? Why are they making their choices? Can unexplained behaviour be linked to new technologies? Can unexpected behaviour be explained? By modeling and analysing the raw needs you’ll find yourself with a profound understanding of your customers. If you’ve done this correctly and found new insights on your customers behaviour, you’ll find yourself bursting with energy and ready to start the ideation phase!


This is where the magic happens: Customer needs are transformed into specific ideas. There are many approaches to ideation, and each innovation team will have a different preference. From CX mapping to classical brainstorming, there is no right or wrong here. The main importance is that you and your team feel comfortable with the method, your ideas are customer centric and you explore more than one viewpoint per idea. The last can be done by a technique that is called multi-visioning. When the idea flow in your ideation session starts declining, you simply shift perspective. This can be done through simple questions like: Can we crowdsource the idea? What if money was no issue? What if the concept had to be launched in China? Can we make the idea 10x cheaper? Etc. 

Keep in mind that at the end of the whole cycle you can end up with one of three different outcomes: 

  1. Finished product (ready to market)
  2. Shelved (Time to market isn’t right yet)
  3. Killed (Valuable learning experience)

All outcomes are successful as you will either be left with a product that is ready to market or have gained valuable new insights and a deeper understanding of your customer and/or time to market. It’s important to keep this in mind during your ideation session, as it will greatly enhance the creative freedom you experience. When a ‘failed idea’ isn’t seen as a fail, your team will more likely come up with ideas that have the potential to be game changing. Opposed to the very conservative ideas you’ll get when every idea has to be a huge success.


While all game changing ideas from the previous phases work in theory, it’s time to get to a much deeper level of what works and what doesn’t work through developing and validating (testing) the ideas. The goal is to transform the most promising ideas into a fully articulated working model of the idea and a fully validated business case (incl. an implementation plan). The prototype must be an MVP (minimal viable product) meaning that it is only the core of the idea you are testing. This is necessary so customers that test it don’t get distracted by flashy buttons or interfaces (unless this is what you want to test ofcourse). 

After testing you’ll end up with new insights on what works and what doesn’t. For most products and services you’ll need to enter multiple additional cycles of needs finding, modeling, ideation and prototyping. With each cycle bringing you closer to a product or service that is tailored to your customers needs. 

When done correctly, this whole cycle can be completed in 1-4 weeks. Meaning you’ll be able to test 1-4 prototypes a month, PER TEAM! This will save an immense amount of time and budget investment in failing products or services, because you’ll know that they will work (you’ve tested them) and when it doesn’t work, you’ve only spent 1-4 weeks on the development (instead of a multiple month mega project). 


In order to become an innovative and leading company you’ll need to pro-actively create innovation. This can be done through the following Agile Innovation sprint steps:  Find out what your customers needs, analyze their needs and try to explain their behavior, use your new insights to create ideas, prototype the ideas and test them. Re-enter this 1-4 week cycle when needed and market the products and services when successfully tested. Do this many times and you’ll find yourself swimming in innovation! 

Authored by Tim Corporaal, lead creative for Futurelab Consulting Europe