Written by Nuno Periquito
We are taught this truism in our early days at school and we apply it in our everyday lives but, in innovation, the quickest way to the finish line can lead to disaster and utter failure.
In management and innovation books, podcast and in so many other channels, innovation breakthroughs are presented as a series of well-defined actions that lead to massive quantum leaps. The examples also always tend to be the same. The culprits include Apple, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and other household names that, at some point in time, created disruptive new products or business models.
Unfortunately, every entrepreneur, either a startup or corporate organisation, will tell you a different story. Innovation, even supported by structured frameworks, tools and methodologies, is messy and chaotic.
It’s a creative approach, supported by collaborative processes involving different stakeholders looking at problems and solutions with a fuzzy blueprint of what the finish line looks like. In particular, during the research phase, where the initial hypothesis are being validated and customer feedback is critical, there is a lot of back and forth in trying to understand what problem is being addressed, what the addressable market is, who the customers are and which business models yield best results.
The innovation process tends to be more like the picture below, which is a far cry from a straight line.
Still, the more work is put in testing, learning and measuring the initial assumptions, before moving to a stage of building the solution, the better are the chances of success. There isn’t such thing as the perfect business plan: it’s a fallacy that many believe, only to pay a very high price.
Like a good wine that needs time to breath once the bottle is open, a new product and service also needs time to grow and consolidate before there is a level of certainty and trust to launch and enter a new cycle of growth that also comes with its set of challenges.
A good idea must die at least 3 times
In the book Loonshots, the author, Safi Bahcall, presents a concept that, to survive, a good idea must first die 3 times. In each of its demises, dying can mean, in many cases, pivot into a different direction. For example, it can be the same idea targeted to a different customer segment or the same idea with a different revenue model, shifting, for example, from perpetual licenses to a PaaS model.
More dramatic pivots can mean abandoning the original idea because new insights unveiled better options to pursue. The important point I wish to make is that rarely does the original idea go unscathed throughout the ideation and validation process.
I was fortunate enough to experience bringing to life new solutions and work with teams from ideation to market availability.
At Celfocus, innovation is at the core of everything we do. For the last 20 years, we’ve helped CSPs to tackle some of their most challenging IT projects, by delivering innovative solutions in a wide array of domains from BSS to OSS and, most recently, in the digital space, acting as a partner to support the transformation journey many CSPs are undertaking.
Still, it became clear that for Celfocus to continue to strive, it was also important to create a space to explore new ideas, far from the exploitation world of delivering projects. “Celfocus Unboxed – Igniting Innovation” was born to fulfill this space and answer to this need.
Celfocus Unboxed is an internal venturing program aimed at developing ideas with strong business potential. Evolving from the exploitation of current business to exploration of new ideas and perspectives, leading to new solutions and growth.
It covers the innovation process from ideation to go-to-market, empowering and supporting teams throughout the whole process, enriching participants’ toolbox, capabilities and understanding of the entire venturing process with a startup and lean mindset.
Celfocus Unboxed teams operate as startups in a context of high risk and uncertainty. The program is designed to help, support, guide and mentor the teams as they evolve from identifying the problem they want to solve, getting customer feedback and validation, defining a business model and ultimately developing a MVP, before the solution is handed over to the business unit and sales teams.
As corporate sponsor and project champion, I’ve had the privilege, firsthand, of working with teams and observing their approach to bring new solutions to market, using a combination of methodologies and tools mainly from design thinking and lean startup.
From the whole experience, one of the biggest learnings was understanding the impact of customer’s feedback and how teams pivoted, leveraging their insights on the lessons learned. In some cases, the initial idea and the final solution were diametrically different. Because change was based on learnings and testing, pivoting, still difficult, but welcoming since teams had the data to support their decision.
Even for seasoned professionals with a large experience and track record managing complex projects, being in a position where there are so many possibilities and outputs can be challenging but the methodologies and tools help stay on course and focus.
Being an IT company, technology is the comfort zone. Talking with customers about solutions that don’t exist yet, validating assumptions, identifying problems and accepting that there isn’t a single right roadmap demands a new mindset and, at the end, for Celfocus, this program delivered new solutions and other invaluable insights and, for all the teams involved, an extraordinary growth opportunity they will carry for the rest of their lives.