Four Tools to Make Innovation More Manageable

Tom Kubilius

Tom Kubilius, Bally Design

Adjacencies are a way for companies to reach for new opportunities. Since an adjacency is based on existing strength, we could pursue any perceived strength and push it in almost any direction. We could, but that leaves the field too wide to be useful. Where would you start?

This is where tools are useful, that you can use to create new perspectives and insights.

Just like any creative endeavor, planning for innovation requires boundaries. Without constraints it can be hard to find a starting point. If I look at you and say “Create art for me,” it can be daunting, where do you begin?

If, however, I hand you a piece of paper and a set of pastels and ask you to sketch a sunset, you would have some very immediate ideas about how to approach it. You will still have room for variability and creativity, but the ideas flow immediately.

The first of our four tools is ‘know your boundaries,” (of your organization). You might even think of it as ‘selecting your boundaries’, since you will decide where to set them. By reducing the universe of things to a smaller set you make it manageable.

You might hear cries of “What if I miss something by placing it outside of my boundaries?” To that you can answer, “We will.” But, the boundaries are up to you and your have the ability to re-set them in the future as you discover new and interesting spaces. You can more thoroughly explore each subset—making it more likely you won’t miss something important.

Another helpful idea is to examine “trends, technologies and timelines.” What technologies and trends are changing the world inside of our boundaries? What are the impacts of those changes on our products, service and industries?

By looking at individual trends and technologies and anticipating impacts, you can uncover intriguing questions about the future of your marketplace. Technology experts and market experts can help you to understand those potential changes, some of which might be turned into real advantages for a company that sees them and asks the right questions.

Using these ideas you can begin to think like a scientist and use another tool: “building from a hypothesis.”

You may be able to look at something like an emerging technology and say that it is clearly an opportunity for your industry and you need to do something about it.

Form a hypothesis by making a firm statement like ‘When X happens it will cause Y to happen in my marketplace.’ For example: As the technology that goes into home entertainment improves, high-income families will see fewer movies at the theater.

This kind of a statement gives you something to test. You can do research, look for trends, run experiments and build evidence for or against your hypothesis. You can build a real world case and back it up.

The ingredients that go into all this thinking are “functions and markets.” What do you do well and where do you do it? Are there other markets that have need of something you can do really well? Are there other needs your customers have that could be solved by applying something you already do well in some new way?

These frameworks help you to uncover opportunities you already poised to leverage, rather than simply search blindly for the next great idea.

Find out more about how adjacencies can help you grow your business by reading our white paper: Finding the right opportunities for growth.