Customer-Focused Innovation and The Power of 10X by Gary P. Kearns

by Gary Kearn

In the work that I do not only teaching at Smith School of Business and soon at Constructor Academy but also consulting on customer-focused innovation and entrepreneurship, I frequently talk about the Power of 10X – thinking well beyond the incremental, day-to-day, business-as-usual approach. Instead, I ask my students and clients to think about how to achieve dramatic, breakthrough growth. The kind that requires them to reconsider everything about their current business model radically. I invite them to question their use of analytics and artificial intelligence: whether it is to turbocharge their activities, make radical changes in how they utilize technology, enter strategic partnerships/acquisitions to leverage their existing capabilities, to enhance their new product development activities, or to tier up their human capital. It can also be a combination of these factors. In any case, it is all about dramatically accelerating innovation. To address these critical innovation force multipliers, I spend a lot of my time helping students and clients to master a collection of tools and processes that I refer to as "The Innovation Framework."

The Innovation Framework has four key process steps: IDEATE, ASSESS, PLAN and ACTION. I have found that many people do not have effective or durable innovation processes, and it usually starts with weaknesses in Ideate. The most effective new ideas come from diverse, cross-functional teams who bring their respective experience and viewpoints together in ideation/brainstorming sessions. Often, these people meet or work together for the first time! Various decision support tools such as Lotus Blossom, SCAMPER, and the Five Whys can support highly creative ideation sessions. Ideas are captured without judgment and plotted on a 2x2 matrix called an "Opportunity Portfolio." The Opportunity Portfolio matrix ranks ideas based on the complexity and size of the opportunity. Frequently, coming out of ideation sessions, students and clients are surprised at how many of their ideas are plotted in areas of the 2X2 matrix that represent the attractive size of the prize and reasonable complexity. They also capture truly complex and potential blue ocean ideas that you may not be ready to tackle immediately. However, you want to track if the complexity changes (e.g., some enabling analytics, AI, or if technology makes it possible). The Opportunity Portfolio is, therefore, the first step in prioritizing innovative ideas. 

After Ideation, the next step, ASSESS, takes the prioritized ideas, and starts to spend imagination (before money!) in understanding the critical assumptions underlying the ideas. I have found that most people do not spend enough time evaluating and understanding the essential assumptions that will make or break their innovative ideas. Assumptions can range from technology (can we build it?), distribution (can we sell it?), pricing (will customers want to pay for it?), and marketing (can we acquire customers at an attractive price relative to customer acquisition cost?). And more importantly, product (are we meeting a real customer need?). 

We discuss a number of tools and processes to facilitate the Assess process: this includes Design Thinking, Discovery Driven Planning, and several one-page decision support tools that are helpful in comprehensively capturing elements of the idea/opportunity (i.e. Business Model Canvas, Lean CanvasAI Canvas, PESTLE analysis). 

After IDEATE and ASSESS, it is time to PLAN! Of all the tools mentioned above, or others that you currently use, which will help you advance your idea beyond the hypothesis (i.e., that it will meet a critical customer need). In addition, which tool will help you move your idea into real-life situations when interacting with real potential customers and trying to learn as much as possible from their reactions? How will you design your experiments to test and discover whether your critical assumptions are, in fact, correct? 

The final step in this highly iterative process is ACTION! I frequently discuss the Lean Startup approach, where students and clients thoughtfully test their ideas by specifying MVP tests that will validate or reject their assumptions. They achieve the holy grail of product/market fit, through iteration and maximizing learning from customer interaction. Once that is accomplished, it is time to scale. "Leaders who scale do so because they take deliberate steps to confront their shortcomings and become the leaders their organizations need them to be."  

Looking to harness the Power of 10X to dramatically impact your ability to contribute to your business' success? Enroll in our MMA program. You will have the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded peers, learn to master powerful decision-support tools and processes and build your entrepreneurial mindset. 

Interested in reading more about Constructor Academy and tech related topics? Then check out our other blog posts.

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