Every company says that innovation is important, and that they value the ideas of their people.

In fact, creativity is becoming a core skill which companies know they need in the future.

Yet the problem lies in the fact that so few established companies actually know how to go about getting value out of their innovation ambitions, let alone turning it into profit.

In fact, according to some estimates by Doblin, 96% of all new innovations which established companies attempt fail to make a return on investment.

So what can you do about it?

In this article, I want to show you the 15 most important Innovation Frameworks and Theories which your companies need to be aware of and should be using.

Together, they reduce the risk of failure, improve the success rate of new ideas and can help build an organisation which is more resilient to change and able to grow.

Let’s get started:

15 – TRIZ

What it is: TRIZ is a problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention in the global patent literature. The TRIZ acronym comes from it’s original Russian name, and in English it is often referred to as a “theory of inventive problem solving” or TIPS. At its core, the framework is a collection of strategies and tools for finding inventive solutions to difficult problems.

By analysing thousands of patents which successfully solved problems, researchers determined that there were approximately 40 inventive principles which underlined the majority of these successes. TRIZ suggests that by looking at whatever problem you are facing and comparing it to the 40 principles, you will find a number of ways to approach the finding of a solution.

40 principles of TRIZ. Cop

40 principles of TRIZ. Copyright By FotoSceptyk – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45719323

When should it be used: If you really cannot come up with any solutions to a challenge, it might be worth going through the list of TRIZ principles. It is also useful for everyone in a company who might generate ideas (which in my view should be everyone) to have a basic understanding of what the principles are.

However, there are more effective ways to innovate, as you will see further down this list.

Suggested reading:

14 – Building a Culture of Innovation

What it is: Rather than a specific theory or methodology, this is a business impetus to make sure that the corporate culture actually encourages innovative behaviour, instead of stifling it. The challenging part of this is that culture is a very personal thing, which will vary between companies, industries and regions. However, in every case, it is beneficial for a company to look inwards and see whether their people, processes and leadership are acting more as innovation enablers, or bottlenecks.

When should it be used: Every company should look at itself frequently to find out how it can build its innovation culture in a way that is right for them. This does not mean copying what “innovative companies” like Netflix are doing (much of their famous HR Culture document would simply not work in many other companies), but instead seeing what impact their own processes are having, and how they can enable and encourage more innovative behaviours, from people at all levels of the company.

Suggested reading:

13 – Budgets for Micro-Innovations

What it is: Everyone always says that innovation is risky because you are investing money in things that are likely to fail. One thing you can do to fix this is to try more smaller-scale innovation experiments, which means you can run significantly more experiments, a lot faster, but at a fraction of the cost. The secret is to make it as simple as possible for people to try these experiments for themselves.

When should it be used: Any organisation that wants to enable their staff who have an idea to “try it out” or do an initial market experiment. An excellent example, outlined in the video below, is Adobe’s Kickbox program, which gives anyone who has an idea and wants to try it out a box with advice on how to approach the experiment and a pre-paid credit card with $1,000 to be used however the person wants.

Suggested viewing:

12 – Disruptive Innovation

What it is: One of the most important theories of innovation, but one which is usually completely misunderstood. Brought to prominence by Professor Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma, this important theory provides an explanation as to why large, established companies eventually get overtaken by smaller ones, and it introduced the concept of disruptive innovation.

Put simply, it theorises that small companies can disrupt the market of large companies by releasing a new version of an offering which appeals more to a subset of the customers. In many cases (especially those listed in the book, such as Computer Storage, Department Stores and Construction Equipment), the small company releases a new technology which is inferior in quality or performance to that of the large company, but makes up for it in another way, like a lower price or convenience. Over time and iteration, this new technology will begin improving to handle more demanding uses.

The important aspect of the theory which most discussions ignore though is that while it is happening, management at the established companies think they’re making the right decision to let the new companies take over the low-end of the market. The reason: The low end of the market is often the least profitable, and by removing it from your customer base, the large companies are actually becoming more profitable (although not necessarily making more profit). Since company leaders have often been taught that increasing profitability is the holy grail of management, it makes perfect sense to allow someone else to take over the low market.

When it should be used: Very seldom! This might seem like a strange thing to say, but the most important thing to realise about Disruptive Innovation is that most people completely misinterpret it. Most startups state that their aim is to be disruptive or to disrupt a specific industry. The problem is that disruptive innovation is a force, not a tool. It has no predictive power. The theory mainly explains how large corporations were disrupted, not how a small company can guarantee success when faced with a larger competitor. Therefore, it is important to understand the basis of the theory from a defensive standpoint, to help prevent them from being disrupted.

Suggested reading:

11 – Ambidextrous Organisations / Dual Innovation

What it is: One of the most challenging aspects of innovation for most companies is not the generating of ideas, or the development of new innovations. Instead, it is integrating new innovations into the business without affecting the performance of core business operations negatively. This is something a large number of companies struggle with. Even if they have agreed on the importance of innovation and have set up teams or departments to develop new value-adding, innovative products and services, these products may end up never being launched because nobody in the existing business units will take responsibility and take the risk of launching them. They can cite a number of seemingly valid reasons for this, including:

  • My team hasn’t got the time to resources or time to take ownership of this new thing
  • My team doesn’t have the skills to understand or support it if something goes wrong
  • I don’t want to risk showing this to our customers and them not liking it
  • It might take sales away from our current offerings
  • I’m not putting my neck and job on the line to promote something which I wasn’t involved with developing
  • If this doesn’t work, it is going to make me look bad

I go through a whole list of the psychology of why managers don’t like being asked for permission to innovate in another article here.

Ambidextrous Organisations on the other hand are companies which have set themselves up to do three things:

  1. Effectively run their core business
  2. Develop, test and validate innovations outside of their core business
  3. Integrate a number of the best innovations back into the core business in a reliable manner

The process of making this happen is often referred to as “Dual Innovation”, and builds the skills, capabilities and processes within a company to make the transition of innovations into the core business more likely to take hold.

When should it be used: Any company which has or is thinking of building an Innovation Team / Department / Lab / Skunkworks should be aware of this concept of Dual Innovation and make sure your teams have the skills and permission to engage in it.

Suggested reading: There are not that many resources out there about this theory yet as it is quite new. However, I would recommend the blog by one of the people leading the development of it, Dr Ralph-Christian Ohr, who I have interviewed on the topic previously (premium content).


10 – Open Innovation, Crowdsourcing and Idea Management

What it is: Going by many names, this is the process by which a company can set a challenge that they want ideas for, and gather ideas from hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, both within their organisation and externally. Historically, companies may have used systems like suggestion boxes or an email address where people could send their ideas, but more often than not, the ideas sent in didn’t go anywhere, leading to frustration in both the leadership (who could not organise and evaluate ideas) and the people who submitted them.

However, recently there have been a number of startups providing a software solution to enable companies to set up innovation challenges, have thousands of people submit their ideas, and then evaluate and manage these ideas in a more structured way. Whether you call it Open Innovation, Idea Management, Innovation Management Systems or Crowdsourcing, the concept is pretty similar.

An example of the dashboard of Idea Management Systems: Wazoku's Idea Spotlight

An example of the dashboard of Idea Management Systems: Wazoku’s Idea Spotlight

When should it be used: There are various types of companies which will benefit the most from Idea Management. Here are a few:

  1. Companies which have stubborn challenges for which an outsider’s perspective could provide a breakthrough (e.g. ones where traditional experts in a field have not been able to solve a challenge with existing methods)
  2. Companies which want to solicit feedback and ideas from a large number of internal employees (e.g. bringing to light inefficiencies which leadership would not be aware of)
  3. Companies which want to get feedback on early prototypes or ideas from the marketplace (e.g. to beta test multiple variations of an offering to see if / which one proves to be popular)
  4. Companies which want a structured system to manage a funnel of ideas and projects (e.g. when thousands of potential ideas need to be evaluated and budgets/resources need to be assigned)
  5. Companies which want to allow external parties/consumers to suggest improvements to existing products or entirely new products (e.g. like P&G’s Connect and Develop platform)

Importantly, it should be noted that there are times when this system could be overkill, such as for start-ups which are working on a single product and are very early in their journey. Typically, more established companies will gain more benefits from a system like this. Additionally, software systems like this do not replace people in the innovation process and cannot automate its management.

Suggested reading: I would recommend you look at the website and blog of Wazoku, an Idea Management system company I have worked with and which produces a lot of thought leadership on the subject.

9 – Understanding the science of creativity

What it is: For a long time, there was a lot of crap advice out there about improving creativity. Often, it would use vague phrases like “rediscover your inner child”, “think like an artist” or “ask yourself what Apple would do”. And this advice almost never helped, because it didn’t give people the understanding of what they should actually be changing. In the last few decades, there has been an explosion of excellent, scientific research into creativity and what affects it. For example, we now know that nurture is more important than nature, that creativity levels are falling over time, how the brain is wired to spot patterns and ignore new input and how it would rather work off memory than being creative. When you truly understand the reasons for how creativity works, based on experimental evidence rather than just intuition, you can then also put in place ways to improve it (Ed: if that is what you are after, and I would suggest everyone should be). We even now know why people don’t realise they are rejecting creative ideas when they are put into decision-making positions (premium content).

When should it be used: I would strongly recommend that everyone who sees the value in new ideas should be educating themselves on understanding creativity better, especially from an evidence-based, scientific basis. This is what I have been working for years to develop and share, and was one of the major sets of highlights in the recent Innovation and Creativity Summit. I would also remind everyone that all people who register for a free account with Idea to Value get access to a free mini-course on introducing the science of improving your creativity (click here to get yours now).

Suggested reading: I would strongly suggest you read the articles I linked to above and make sure you sign up for the Idea to Value newsletter (and get our creativity training tracker) as we write often on this blog about the science of creativity. But I would also recommend the following books:

8 – Effective Brainstorming

What is it: Every company knows about brainstorming. And yet almost every company is incredibly frustrated by how ineffective it is in actually generating solutions. This is simply because most companies don’t realise that they are doing it completely wrong. And this isn’t necessarily their fault, as most professional brainstorming facilitators are using rules which were first introduced in the 1950s and have long since been proven to be ineffective. In fact, a lot of creativity research outlined in the previous framework (understanding your creativity) has led to breakthroughs in understanding how teams generate ideas together and has allowed much more effective brainstorming techniques to be devised. One such technique, which may seem counterintuitive at first but really works, is to have people write down their initial ideas in silence before any group discussion begins (this is called brainwriting, and is especially good at getting creative suggestions out of more introverted people).

When should it be used: Any time a company wants to develop a set of ideas or potential solutions to a challenge as a group. This should always be done instead of traditional brainstorming.

Suggested reading:

This article on Effective Brainstorming, and this book by Bryan Mattimore, which elaborates our interview from the Innovation and Creativity Summit on various brainstorming techniques (premium content):

7 – Lean Innovation Management

What it is: Inspired by a number of Lean Startup principles along with aspects of Design Thinking and Agile Development, Lean Innovation Management is a framework to manage innovation projects in a more agile way than traditional project management. For example, instead of asking managers to develop a full business case with lifetime costs and risks to ask for budget for a full project (which is often highly inaccurate and purely guesswork for innovation projects), a manager might only be required to ask for budget to do an initial set of experiments to test the market for an idea. This can lead to a much larger number of innovations being tested much more quickly, for a lower cost and at a lower risk than traditional management methods.

Some of the aspects of Lean Innovation Management include:

  1. Encouragement of lots of small scale, cheap experiments instead of full launches
  2. Allocating small initial budgets to get to the next stage in a lifecycle early on (e.g. to test the market), instead of asking for a full project budget with a business case
  3. Incorporating feedback from multiple parties throughout the design and development process
  4. Building of “Minimum Viable Products (MVPs)” and prototypes and testing these with real people
  5. Iterating and changing direction (“pivoting”) if the feedback suggests you are going in the wrong direction

When should it be used: Any company which has a limited budget of money and pool of resources to work on innovation projects could greatly benefit from a Lean Innovation approach. For example, look at this high-level innovation project lifecycle which I use with my clients, and which encapsulates a number of Lean Innovation Management principles: