The Innovation Blog

Early Innovation Decision-making and the 'SNIFF' test

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

The other side of innovation

Posted by David Culton on Sep 11, 2010 7:20:00 PM

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Mark Gallagher of Blackcoffee suggested I take a look at this new book by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, and I'm glad I did.  Vijay and Chris are associated with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.  Vijay a professor and Chris an innovation speaker and consultant who is also on the faculty at Tuck.

This is a book written for leaders of innovation, primarily those who seek its pursuit from within existing business structures.  What I love about this book is that academia is finally waking up to some of the realities of the innovation challenge for management of existing businesses.  Vijay and Chris admit that it simply hasn't been studied well enough by the B-schools until strategy moved from teaching would-be managers how to manage the status quo to the fact change is inevitable (and on an incredible pace) and that therefore strategy must be about leading change - creating the future -- "Strategy as innovation."

While there are many excellent points made in this book and a bonanza of tips, myths, challenges, etc., there are three overriding premises that resounded with the nearly 20 year business innovationist/practitioner in me:

1. The major challenge in innovation is not in creating ideas.  Ideas are creativity.  Innovation is about successfully implementing ideas.  (I would point to the definition of innovation we have developed over time:  “Business innovation is the process of envisioning and successfully implementing new ways of doing anything that creates value for an enterprise and its customers.”  So total agreement here.

2. Succeeding at implementing innovation is especially challenging for existing organizations.  Vijay and Chris call the existing business the “Performance Engine.”  And they make a very good case for the major challenges for innovation efforts presented by Performance Engines.  Culture, competition for resources, lack of understanding the challenges, are but a few of them. 


As my partner Mark has consistently pointed out, we’ve all known this for a long, long time.  Machiavelli had it right back in 1514 when he said:

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who would profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have laws in their favour, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who does not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.”

~Niccolo Machiavelli

But for some reason, business leaders haven’t really understood this.  Too many have felt that if they and their organization’s were good at running existing business, they ought to be able to take ideas and implement them with the same excellence – wrong!

3. To succeed, the leaders of innovation have to develop new skills that allow the innovation effort to work synergistically with the Performance Engine. 

If you are an innovation leader, facing challenges in succeeding within your organization, this is a great, informative read.  I recommend it. 

Topics: Innovation, leadership, strategic innovation, strategy, growth, implementation