In a past post I explored into scenarios and innovation in great depth (see How Does Scenario Planning Help Drive Innovation).
I was reading a piece in the Financial Times called Another Way of to develop ideas (on the web as Another form of creative thinking) which looked at practices for Open Innovation. It does not mention scenarios. I think this is a critical mistake. Now, the article is a 3/4 page piece, so it can’t cover everything, but at least the diagram should include a hint, a pointer. It doesn’t.
Why are scenarios important to innovation?
Open innovation by its nature exists in a context-free space. That does not imply that individual contributors create their own context, but that the inputs don’t cast for a consistent context. If the firm engaged in open innovation does not have a robust framework to create a shared context for the incoming contributions, then they will fail to leverage those contributions to their maximum potential.
Consider a company that elicits responses for new user interface designs. One future it imagines involves people flying through data and interacting with apps via a gaming interface. That future a contextual bias. They will likely only recognize solutions that reinforce this bias.
If, however, that same firm uses scenarios to imagine a range of possible futures, each with unique assumptions about user interaction, they will be more open to truly innovative inputs because they will have reduced their bias toward a preconceived notion of the solution. This later example could yield radical departures even from the scenarios. The scenarios prime participants for exploring, asserting, and adopting a wider range of possibilities, one that can continue to expand as the organization learns.
Scenarios and learning organizations
Organizations that use scenarios are learning organizations. They cannot help but be, because they are supported by a rich, exploratory process that unleashes the constraints of bias. It might be argued that Open Innovation would create a great learning opportunity because so many inputs will be streaming in from so many places that something interesting is bound to turn up. The wild, openness of inputs may prove true, but it does not mean that the organization will recognize or accept the ideas. Organizations that claim to be innovative often see innovation only through a narrow lens. They would quickly discount many of those ideas because of items on this checklist:
- We can’t do that here
- We aren’t that kind of company–too radical for us
- It is too expensive
- That won’t fit with our current product mix
- Our customers won’t accept it
- We tried something like that before and it failed
And myriad other excuses for not being innovative.
Scenarios and innovation: where in the process?
Scenarios should exist as strategic assets prior to innovation initiatives. Those that integrate strategy and innovation should create scenarios to inform strategy, and to help drive innovation. Scenarios act as a precursor that helps define the challenges and the opportunities.
While the scenarios act as a backdrop, they play a different role depending on the phase of innovation. The following list is generic, and can be mapped on to any organizations innovation process:
Ideation: scenarios help generate more ideas by forcing people into different, often uncomfortable spaces that forces them to think about the solution/problem space differently.
Idea management: Scenarios can act as metadata to categorized ideas.
Concept Development: Scenarios can provide a framework for developing products and services, most importantly, for features that will be important under differing circumstances. Some features may be listed as contingent, but should still be conceptually developed so that they can be more easily integrated should the contingency come to pass.
Experience testing: Scenarios can provide a framework for developing projects that test ideas against different sets of social, technological, economic, environmental, and political assumptions.
Market introduction: Because scenarios provide a rich narrative to complement the product concept, they offer ready-made thought leadership content to help position the new products or services. Scenarios may push toward products that are ahead of the market. Product managers should know this. The thought leadership content paves the road for adoption.
Learning organizations suspend their bias when it comes to innovation. Scenarios are a great tool for helping them confront their biases directly, and then move beyond them, so they can be open to the ideas that their partners, their customers, and their employees offer.
For more serious insights on strategy, scenarios and innovation click here.