Are you frightened of failure?

Challenging the way we tackle innovation

Innovation isn’t easy. That said, I am continually frustrated by the high levels of in-market failure. Driven by a determination to help companies improve the way they do their NPD, I’ve created an Innovation Checklist based on six powerful questions that promote an entirely different way of thinking. I haven’t met a client yet who can satisfactorily answer all six questions about the way they go about innovation.

By David Soulsby

Balancing safe and breakthrough innovation
From recent discussions, very few people involved in the industry feel they have the right balance in  their innovation pipeline between safe and ‘breakthrough’ innovation. I’m going to concentrate on  one question: ‘Are you frightened of failure?’

My concern is that in many companies innovation has become too safe because they are frightened of failure. This fear manifests itself in two ways. First, a corporate fear, based on the watchful eye of the City on the innovation pipeline. In this climate of scrutiny, it’s more common to see tweaks to the existing marketplace rather than real product innovation. In a recent analysis of new product introductions in the US, only 5% were deemed to be truly innovative. (Kilde: ProductScan)

Following on from this, there’s the inevitable human fear factor: do I want to be seen as a manager of innovations that do not make it to market? Some companies reward their people on the number of products launched, rather than the actual isuccess of the products, so it isn’t surprising they end up with lots of safe innovation.

Looking for more sophisticated research
In NPD, most companies follow a tried and tested process. The popular ‘stagegate’ approach puts up a set of criteria that any new product has to meet to get through each gate, stage by stage. And market research often provides the information at each gate that allows it through.

So success in innovation is heavily dependent on how you research it. Are we sticking slavishly with old ways or are we in tune with contemporary issues, embracing how the purchasing dynamic has changed?

In concept screening, I know that clients are worried about killing ideas, where research reveals that the product shows a high level of uniqueness but purchasing intention is low. They worry that  tomorrow’s great ideas will be canned because today’s audience didn’t understand them. And they are right to be wary, because current testing systems are not sympathetic to many of these ideas.


Asking the right people the right questions
To overcome this shortcoming, clients need more sophisticated research that cuts to the chase. We’re too democratic in the NPD arena. In evaluative research we take everybody’s views and just aggregate the data. This is going to have to change. It’s something we’ve taken on board at TNS by identifying category-specific ‘Future Shapers’, those leading consumers who drive change in markets and future business growth. These people are deeply involved in the category.
They’ll ask a lot of questions, but they’ll recommend the brand. Advocates. Ambassadors. As such they are far more relevant than ‘early adopters’.

Listening to the Future Shapers
By giving a disproportionate weight to the views of these leading consumers, we can help you weave along a tricky path.
A classic example is seen in the development of a new soft drink brand in Australasia. In trying to enter the highly competitive market place, our client deliberately avoided the trap of mimicking the long-time category leader and instead consulted Future Shapers in a co-creation exercise to identify a more disruptive approach. This led to the idea of an ‘adults only’ soft drink which was developed and tested. It fell short of normal action standards in a quantitative test but was saved by its obvious appeal to those at the leading edge of the market. It was subsequently launched and achieved an almost instant ‘cult’ status before finding its way into the repertoire of mainstream consumers and carving out a very worthwhile share of the market.

So don’t allow fear of failure to drive you towards safe innovation. Use a tool which is sensitive to breakthrough innovation and you may have your hands on the next big thing. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my favorite Woody Allen quote:

"If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

David Soulsby is Global Director – Innovation & Product Development at TNS

David Soulsby is Global Director – Innovation & Product Development at TNS. He has 25 years’ experience of working on over 250 new product launches – and filtered out many more ideas which thankfully never made it to the supermarket shelves.

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