Getting the timing of innovation right is fundamental to maximizing the returns. Bad timing can lead to disaster, whether you get to market too early or too late.
Timing influences many aspects in life and innovation is no exception. Investor Bill Gross researched 200 companies and investigated the factors that accounted the most for success and failure. Timing had the highest impact on success. With a score of 42%, it was judged to be more important than the team/execution (32%), the idea (28%) or even the business model (24%). Funding came in last with 14%.
When running an innovative organization, you need to generate, evaluate and kill a lot of ideas. The problem is that most organizations tend to kill ideas at the wrong times: either too early or too late.
A lot of ideas do not survive the process of idea-generation. They are immediately killed in brainstorm sessions or in budgeting rounds and never get to show their potential. But when new ideas do become projects, then they are often allowed to live too long and threaten to drag down the whole culture of innovation.
Unlike ideas, projects require teams, budgets and goals. The people running a project often establish an emotional attachment to it. Failure might be damaging to their reputations or could even harm their futures in the firm. Therefore, ideas that become projects are not likely to be killed. The longer a bad project keeps going, the bigger the consequences. As a result, these ideas are killed too late and innovation gets a bad name.
There are a number of items to consider when deciding when the time is right to bring an innovation to market.
- Is there any upcoming technology that will transform the experience/market?
- Are customers ready to accept and adopt this innovation?
- Is the sales channel mature enough to support the introduction of a new innovation?
- Can you bring it all together at a price that will drive broad adoption?
More ideas should be allowed to become projects, but these projects need to have very clear milestones, which must be reached at an early stage of the project. Otherwise the project should be terminated and resources should be applied to a new project.
Likewise, project managers should not be penalized when their projects do not reach early milestones. Rather, they should be rewarded for being sensible and encouraged to share their learnings with their colleagues in order to prevent similar failures in the future.
As we already saw in Innovation Fact 6 (Don’t judge an idea too soon), innovation asks for a certain degree of tolerance for uncertainty. It is difficult to calculate the ROI of new ideas, but that doesn't mean they are worthless. Couple this with a culture of daring to cut into projects that don't deliver on their promises, and a thorough analysis of your market & the technology landscape, and your timing should improve significantly.
All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.