Starting Small and Failing Often – The foundation of Innovation Sprints

Never forget that creativity is not innovation or ideation. The first is wild and unstructured, even though there is a right way and a wrong way to elicit the seeds of dreams. The second is systematic and repeatable, and this is examined in much more detail in our innovation management programs.

In the real world, we have often seen innovation initiatives come to a grinding halt because the team didn’t come into the innovation phase with big enough dreams from the creative phase.

At the same time, these big dreams can’t come true all at once. It takes a series of small but pivotal victories and many failures along the way. Start small, fail small, and use the results to course-correct until you arrive at the solution that lives up to your dreams. Celebrate failures because they will define your boundaries. That’s easy to say but hard to live up to because of the nature of competition in the business world.

We have found one methodology that helps take the sting out of failing is the proper application of Hypothesis-based Problem-solving.

The hypothesis-based method involves designing and running experiments to test theories. The team measures the results and either discards the theory or adopts it as the premise for the next set of theories. Although it sounds basic, it turns out to be rarely practiced in the business world.

Innovation projects more often follow a solution-based approach, in which a problem is identified and a solution proposed by an expert. The team acts on expert advice instead of their own knowledge derived from testing in a well-defined Innovation Sprint. As a result of the solution-based approach, one study by McKinsey found that although executives agree on the critical value of innovation, 94 percent are not satisfied with their own results (Hamel & Tennant, 2015).

The concept “Innovation Sprint” that animates the hypothesis-based method is that by running multiple rapid tests of simplified models, you learn the maximum amount of practical insights with minimal investment. A wide range of case studies and our own experience agree on the fact that “fail fast, learn fast” is a smarter approach to innovation.

In fact, an essential practice distinguishing organizations that have been more successful at innovation from their less successful peers is the sheer number of tested hypotheses. You can define that as many failures, but in reality, the word “failure” is just a rhetorical device referring to the refutation of a specified hypothesis. Just phrasing it in that way makes the process much less threatening to risk-averse managers.

With the exercises laid out later in this volume, you will be able to draft your own schematic of how that will work toward the realization of your next big dream.