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Bob Roitblat: Stop Asking For Ideas If You Want To Be Innovative

When you follow the same innovation path as most organizations, two-thirds of your new products, new services and new ideas are likely to fail. When you follow the innovation principles and process outlined below, you’re much more likely to see 84 percent or more of your new products, new services, new ideas succeed.


Most organizations looking for ideas that produce breakthrough innovation start by asking for ideas. With this inherently flawed method it is extremely difficult to hit a bull's-eye because there's no target to aim for. Asking for ideas before defining the target offers a low probability of success. You have to aim before you shoot.


So why do so many organizations start by asking for ideas? Because it’s easier.


In 1992 a group of psychologists, led by Ronald Finke, documented two distinct processing phases of inventive thinking: They found that people are innately better at coming up with a solution—an idea—and searching for the problem it solves (i.e., discovering a key and searching for the lock it fits) than they are at identifying a problem and searching for the best solution (i.e., discovering a lock and searching for the appropriate key).*


Just because people are better at starting with a solution doesn’t mean that that process produces the best solutions. Or even produces solutions that meet the needs of your customers. Here’s an example:


Maybe you’ve heard of the Segway, the two-wheeled electric scooter.


In 2001, when the Segway was released, the inventor, Dean Kamen said the Segway will fundamentally change personal transportation. “(It) will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.” He predicted selling 10,000 vehicles per week. Yet, over the 16 and-a-half years that the Segway has been out, they have sold, on average, about 85 vehicles per week.

Segway Innovation

The Segway is a great idea. But Innovation is not about ideas. It’s about helping your customers achieve their business objectives—their desired outcomes—in a way that they value. What outcome does the Segway help more than a handful of people achieve?


“Your success at innovation is in direct proportion to strength of the fit between the customers’ desired outcomes and the product, service or idea being offered.”


Your new products, new services, new ideas can only produce the outcomes customers want, when you know what outcomes customers want, and how they measure outcome achievement.


Before asking for ideas you first need to gain insight into the important outcomes your customers (internal or external) or prospects are trying to achieve: what problem or intense frustration they are trying to resolve or what they’re trying to avoid. Innovation starts at the point you gain this insight.


“Innovation is far more predictable and effective when you start by identifying the outcomes customers are struggling to achieve.”


When customers or prospects have an important desired outcome and they’re not satisfied with the solutions currently available, you’ve identified a real pain. You’ve identified a real target towards which to apply innovation.


Maybe their pain is not with the solution that produces the outcome. Maybe what they have to go through to obtain the solution—the solution onboarding process—is too difficult. Again, you’ve identified a real pain. You’ve identified another real target towards which to apply innovation.


Once you gain insight into your customers’ and prospects’ desired outcomes, their urgency of outcome achievement, where their pain lies, the intensity of that pain, and whether they have a budget to resolve their dissatisfactions, you can ask for ideas. But not just any ideas; ideas focused on producing the targeted outcomes within the identified constraints.


The better you identify and focus on the targets you’re trying to hit, the higher the probability that you’ll hit them. This is a method I call the Outcome-focused Innovation Process.

Highly targeted planning


“Outcome-focused is outside-in. Idea-driven is inside-out.”


An Outcome-focused Innovation Process produces more relevant solutions and is much more effective than an idea-driven focus. Identifying an important yet unsatisfied or under-satisfied solution onboarding process or outcome is your opportunity for innovation and growth. It’s uncontested market space.


To take advantage of these opportunities, follow my Outcome-focused Innovation Process:

  • Gain insight into your customers’ and prospects’ desired outcomes, and which are of high importance and unsatisfied or under-satisfied.
  • Examine your customers’ and prospects’ experience with their current solution onboarding process and determine which steps, if any, they are unsatisfied with.
  • Ask for ideas for new solutions or adaptations to current solutions that help customers achieve their desired outcomes and raise the customer’s satisfaction above every existing alternative.



 Innovation is not an event; it’s a process. It’s a process over which you have control and can use to your advantage. If you short circuit the process, you short circuit the results. If you follow the process you'll be more successful more often.



*R. A. Finke, Thomas B. Ward & Steven M. Smith, Creative Cognition: Theory, Research and Applications, MIT Press, 1992.


Who is Bob Roitblat?


Bob Roitblat founded or co-founded and successfully exited 12 different companies that, combined, generate over $45 million in annual billings. Bob has 30+ years of hands-on P&L responsibility running companies at every phase of a business' life cycle. He also has considerable experience helping organizations across a range of industries be more creative and produce more innovative breakthrough ideas.

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