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The outlook for 2020: Bringing discipline to the innovation process

What is the innovation outlook for 2020? I expect it to be bringing discipline to the innovation process. I foresee that organizations will take a serious look at their strategic plans, technology wishlists, and budgets, and realize that they need more discipline in their innovation process to obtain the desired results and to reduce the costs.

The yield from 2019

Many of the organizations we worked with in 2019, came to the insight that their innovation efforts are producing lots of buzz, but not much else.

Better insights in the innovation efforts, including the number of projects ongoing, expenditures, timelines, etc. revealed that there were plenty of ongoing initiatives, but that there were huge gaps between the intent, the plans, the execution, the budgets, and the results.

For these organizations, the goal for 2020 is to close these gaps, without quelching the created culture and enthusiasm for innovation.

Realistic goals for 2020

You can only foster discipline if you set realistic goals. So don’t expect miracles to happen in 2020. As Bill Gates said “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Stick to the discipline of detailing your plans only for what comes next, while using a high-level plan for the future. Acknowledge, that with time things will change.

What should you aim for?

The overarching objective should be to make your innovation process profitable and rewarding. Otherwise innovating is simply not sustainable.

However, be realistic. When we get engaged, it is not uncommon for firms to get a return of $10,000 from every $1,000,000 investment in innovation activities. Turning this negative number into a positive return of investment is certainly possible, it just won’t happen overnight. It probably will take you one to three years to turn things around.

So for the short term, focus for example on:

  • Data tracking of your projects – Keep track of the number of ongoing innovation projects and the hours and resources spent on each
  • Business cases – Make sure each project is accompanied by a business case and that the team knows what needs to be tested to verify that their project and plans
  • Decision making – Make sure all decisions are based on data. If there is a disagreement, formulate assumptions the team should test and/or data that should be collected to prove further investments are worthwhile
  • No = No – Make sure that project teams know what a ‘no’ means. Celebrate these ‘no’-s. Ask the team to create a short lessons-learned report and count that as a victory. Knowing what not to do is important too.

And beyond…

Where you also can become more disciplined is in asking for help

As true problem solvers, many service providers think they can do everything themselves. I have seen physicians becoming product developers, lawyers plunging themselves into the world of data science and artificial intelligence, and engineers taking on a new hobby as software developers.

I certainly encourage learning more about any new discipline, domain or technology. You never can learn enough. However, you should realize – and I am talking from experience here –  that these fields are specialties by themselves that take years to master.

Should you then stop problem-solving and innovating, because the solution is in a new knowledge domain? No!

What you need to do is find collaborators. Use your own expertise and experience to come up with the idea and to develop the business case. While you certainly also want to stay involved in the execution, you don’t need to do it all yourself. 

Know where your knowledge falls short and when you need to engage others.


“Asking for help is expensive”, is what I frequently hear in response. True. And your time is expensive and precious as well!

You have to justify your choice for outsourcing in your business case. Just as it is expensive to involve external collaborators too late, it is also expensive to involve them too early. You have to know what you need them for.

Often, you can get very far yourself by making mockups, doing customer interviews, designing the new workflow, calculating things through at a high level, etc. That way, you get an idea of what is needed and whether you can afford the designer, software developer, and AI expertise you need.

The yield of discipline

Bringing discipline to the innovation process will result in:

  • Better insights in costs
  • Faster processes – fuzzy front end – development – implement – scale
  • Stronger innovation capabilities

And over time, more discipline will also result in a better return on investment from your innovation efforts. You may not see all these results yet in 2020, because it takes time to implement these changes. But it will prepare you for whatever the future holds in this decade. One that promises to become turbulent, just like the previous roaring twenties.

And research has shown, companies that invest in innovation and innovation capabilities in good times, are the companies that will stand out when the economy slows down.

How we can help?

At Organizing4Innovation we help teams and organizations bring discipline to the innovation process.

As part of our online accelerator for innovation teams, we help teams create their business case. As one of our users said “finally, I can now compare apples with apples” despite each innovation project being unique and different.

Last but not least, we can also help you to become more disciplined in your decision making, which starts with your teams giving you better data.

I look forward to working with you in 2020 to bring discipline to your innovation process!