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The Innovation Blog

The "SNIFF" test - criteria for early innovation decision making

Posted by David Culton on Sep 27, 2010 11:41:00 AM

Innovation clients frequently ask us how to make better decisions when pursuing breakthrough innovation.  Decision making in pursuit of breakthrough and transformational innovation is significantly different that which is for sustaining or incremental innovation (where frames of reference, past benchmarks, etc. exist).  There are five key decision points along the journey.  At each point, beliefs, assumptions, SWAGS, etc. will get tighter, and more useful.  

Today I'm going to address the second decision point.  Once you have had full range of beginning ideas, and selected a manageable number to fully describe and turn in concept outlines, how should you decide which ones to take into a more rigorous process of creating "Business Visions"?  The creation of Business Visions involves significantly more thought, time and effort.  It involves an escalation of resource commitment, and therefore is deserving of some thoughtful selections from within the existing range of possibilities.  And it is early in the game.  So what criteria to use?

SNIFF test

The Creative Realities "SNIFF" Test©.

Five criteria should be considered at this stage.  All five require the use of judgment, rather than any real metrics.  Because for "breakthrough" innovation, there is no frame of reference, no empirical data, etc.  Here are the criteria to consider, we recommend using a 5 point scale to make judgmental evaluations of each:

Strategy:  How well does this fit with our strategy and further our Vision?

Need: How well does this address an important consumer/customer need?

Impact: Opportunity Size. Have we envisioned a sizable enough market with money to spend? 

Feasibility:  Can it be done technically within our timeframe?

Feel:  Most important -- What does your “Educated Gut” say?

As you consider these criteria, it is easy to simply select those few that have the highest average ratings on these criteria.  But before you do, look at what the ratings are telling you.  Used properly, they can identify the key areas of strength and weakness.  Before you make your decision, consider each criteria and ask yourself "How could I make this concept stronger in this criteria?  And how would that affect the other criteria?  Problem-solve your way to the strongest form of the idea before you make the decisions.  Then make them in an informed manner.

Take a "SNIFF".  What does it tell you?

SNIFF Test ©2010 Creative Realities, Inc.

Topics: Innovation, creative problem solving, breakthrough innovation, leadership, strategic innovation, Strategic Goals, criteria for innovation, decision-making, defensible SWAG, approximate thinking, developmental thinking, implementation, execution, criteria

When cars poop. A new Techonomy.

Posted by David Culton on Aug 30, 2010 6:37:00 PM

What if Henry Ford got it wrong?

I’m an innovationist.  I make my living helping companies innovate.  Most of my blogging will be about practical tips and techniques from a practitioner’s experiences on the road to innovation.  This thread will be different.  This is intended to be thought provoking about sustainability, technology, technological roadmaps, techonomy (http://techonomy.com/videos/ look for the video "techonomy – the philosophy"), sustainable innovation, and other related subjects.

Let’s begin with a definition of innovation:  “Business innovation is the process of envisioning, and successfully implementing new ways of doing anything that creates value for a company or it’s customers.”

The Absurd Wish:  For the purposes of this blog thread, I’d like to have some fun, and hopefully intrigue you to thinking more about sustainability and the role of innovation, by beginning with what many will call an “absurd wish.”  In a nutshell, my wish is for a world where “cars poop.”  Before you completely bail out on me, consider this quote from Albert Einstein… “If at first an idea does not seem absurd, there’s no hope for it.” 

That’s good advice for innovator’s seeking really breakthrough or transformational innovation.  If all we wish for are things we can understand or envision today, we simply won’t be pushing very far from what is easy, feasible and incremental.

So I wish for a world where cars poop.  Why would I wish that?  Let’s go back to Henry Ford.  Henry is credited with saying “If I asked them what they wanted they would have said ‘faster horses’.”  That statement is commonly used to help people understand that in talking with customers or consumers, you have to look well beyond what they say and can wish for.  Most of us are grounded in what we know, and find it difficult to see very far beyond that.  That’s true, and a helpful thought for most Voice of the Customer (VOC) activities. 

You get what you play for.  So what if Henry did get it wrong? What if we look at “Faster Horses” differently.  In Henry’s time, the existing paradigm was that most locomotion, most vehicles were based on horse power (funny how we still use that term today).  The horse was the “engine” of locomotion; the carriage or cart was the vehicle.  So if you wanted to go faster, you needed a faster horse.  Henry’s answer was to break the paradigm and make vehicles based on the internal combustion engine more useful and available to the “common man.”  That's what he "played for" and it worked well for him, and for a long time, it worked well for everyone.  But today, all that internal combustion is contributing to a range of little issues like pollution, global warming, tensions over oil resources, etc.

Something to think about:

Maybe we should have, or should begin to play for something different.  What if we look at “faster horses” differently?  What if we rephrase that to “biological engines.”  Steam engines were also at play during those times.  But they quickly became relegated to trains and ships.  The automotive industry pursued a century of innovation around creating motion by igniting fuel oil.  What if that century had focused on creating more efficient, smaller steam engines?  And what if rather than burning coal, or oil, etc., the innovation roadmap had been on the road to biological reactions that cause enough heat to create steam?  Where would we be today?  Think about it.  I’ll share some new technologies later that might hold some of the answers.

Topics: Innovation, creative problem solving, breakthrough innovation