Is the classic “Innovation Funnel” now a Myth?
Alternative ways to look at a dated model of innovation, especially from a service innovation perspective: the Intentional Learning Organization
A classic way of modeling the process of innovation is “the funnel.” Lots of ideas are bouncing around – some big, some small – at the large end, and they are making their way through a number of gates to the narrow end of the funnel, where funding and other resources bring them to fruition. In this model, only the “best” ideas are vetted, funded, and realized. I have even used this model – in the past – to describe the process of innovation. It no longer applies, however. Customer demand and the overall speed of business has intensified so that a filtering process such as a funnel will not suffice to address customer (internal or external) needs quickly enough to be of any value. By the time a solution idea is selected, vetted, created, and implemented, someone else has solved the problem and taken your customer with them. So, what is the current model? Innovation – with the possible exception of the massively disruptive innovations (which are in question as it is) – occurs at the speed of your employee enablement. What? Yes.
Contributors to the value of your company and your brand (your “employees”) are aware of the immediately pressing issues of your customers – again, whether they are internal customers or external customers. In responding to these issues, contributors must have the (1) authority; and (2) tools to respond rapidly and effectively to resolve those issues. The tools and the process are generally quite straightforward – just put into new combinations to resolve new issues. Yet you might ask, “How can I trust our employees with such authority? What if poor decisions are made that cost us money and customers?”
The Intentional Learning Organization
If all contributors at all levels (line, management, executives) have identified their work styles, characteristics, strengths, and paths forward, the learning is taking place so that the decisions at all levels are based in sound, critical, systems thinking and established, mindful practices of innovation. The acquisition of these skills – as learning objectives supported by available learning activities – must not only be optionally available; they must be identified as integral to individual learning plans. This forms an important aspect of the Intentional Learning Organization. If all contributors at all levels are enabled through individualized Learning Plans, they will not only be more effective at their current job roles, they will also be effectively confident innovators with customers.
Succession & Retention
As a bonus, they will all be preparing for their next level role – in alignment with corporate goals – which will promote a smooth succession across the organization and establish motivation for staying with the company over the course of their career. Innovate; and do so quickly, iteratively, with lean agility. Save the funnel for filling the salt shaker.