Is your innovation process creating more pain than gain?

If your innovation process is creating a lot of grief than I have a little solution for you.

I've created an infographic for you that identifies the most common innovation pains with innovation processes so that you can avoid them.











Nils Vesk

Innovation Blueprint

Innovation speaker, consultant, author

Collaboration for innovation

Ever wonder how you can get everyone in a meeting to collaborate and share their ideas?

I was recently involved in an innovation round table with some incredibly smart people and I'm happy to say it was a smashing success in terms of collaboration for innovation.

One of the big obstacles at meetings is getting people to collaborate and share their ideas. The reason why most meetings don't work well is that there is poor facilitation behind the meeting. 

The typical brainstorming session goes like this: 
* Authoritative person stands up and says what the problem is
* 3 seconds later the authoritative person asks the group if they have any ideas or solutions
* Followed by stone cold silence until someone shares some thoughts that aren't really new or helpful, other than in breaking the silence. 

So why is it that so many meetings become unproductive in terms of new ideas? Essentially most meetings fail to be innovative because they haven't been designed. Period. 

If you want interaction, the best thing you can do is to design interactive activities that will enable interaction. People are silent for a solution because they haven't had time to think about an answer and even if they had an answer most people (98% of the population) feel uncomfortable speaking publicly and therefore will keep it themselves.

We need to give people a structured question or activity, to give people thinking time, to allow people to share with a partner, and to share with the group.

Here's the 4 stages that will help to facilitate collaboration. 

 1. Share with yourself
"We're facing a big challenge at the moment our sales have been decreasing despite releasing a new product with good reviews. We seem to be dropping the ball around our customer experience. Let's spend a few minutes thinking of where our weakest points might be in our customer experience. Grab a sheet of paper and jot down as many thoughts as you can in the time that this song plays for (play a 3 minute song from a smart phone or computer)". 

 2. Share with your partner
"Now that we've got some ideas jotted down share with the person next to you and discuss your thoughts on those customer experience pain points" 

 3. Share with the table
If a big meeting with separate tables: "Okay now share with other people at your table as to what your thoughts are" 

 4. Share with the whole group
"Now let's share with the whole group, who's heard of some good areas that we could improve on?" 

To find out more about the power of innovation, consider our upcoming innovation spring fling being held at the Sydney Business School. For more information visit




Quick Tip:

Design around the four key phases to innovation.

Here's why: Innovation isn’t just about ideas, its about insights, prototypes and commercial projects too. Needs will always change but the phases of innovation will always remain.

Phase 1 - Investigation: This is all about discovering insights. Ensure you have a process that generate insights from your stats (eg. sales, mktg, refunds, breakdowns etc.), insights from new emerging trends, and insights into what customer needs, desires, aversions and obstructions are.

Phase 2 - Ideation: Make time to generate ideas and lots of them. Be that by setting a KPI for the no. of ideas created at each weekly mtg. Drop expectations of quality. Quality follows quantity.

Phase 3 - Iteration: Ensure you have processes to test & prototype ideas rapidly and cost effectively to minimise risk and gain certainty.

Phase 4 - Commercialisation: Treat innovation as seriously as any other part of the business by creating metrics that measure the number of ideas, insights and prototypes created each quarter. Have processes that allow innovation projects ideas to become billable projects.

To find out more about the power of innovation, consider our upcoming innovation spring fling being held at the Sydney Business School. For more information visit


Quick tip:

Create a story as to ‘why’ innovation is important.

Why? Because stories (or narratives as behaviouralists like to call them) when they evoke emotions are one the most powerful ways to instigate behavioural change.

This means we need to have a continual supply of stories that reinforce and engage in an emotional way as to ‘why’ innovation is important and stories of how innovation is already happening.

Share stories of what you want to see ‘more of’ and why it’s so important. This leads to establishing values of innovation. Tell stories of ‘observable and measurable innovation behaviours’. For example “Just this week our team invited a guest supplier in to talk about their latest process mapping procedure...”.

Profitable Predictions

We all want to succeed at our projects including our innovative projects. Yet how do we measure the success of our innovation? Innovation in business in many ways is a form of experimentation. Scientists see each experiment as an opportunity to test a new hypothesis and the predictions that they have around a concept. Innovating in business should follow the same experimentation and prediction methodology.

When it comes to innovating we can learn so much from the mind of the scientists by utilising the power of predictions. So what is a prediction and how do I go about doing it?

A good example I have for this is a recent Innovation Summit that I ran at the Sydney Business School. After creating my plan for the summit I started to make predictions as to what I thought was going to happen. I had predictions on:

The number of hits I would get to the summit website
The number of hits I would get on a LinkedIn advertisement
The number of registrations
The number of actual attendees
The number of people that would arrive late
The number of people that would leave early
The level of engagement
The number of post event sales

The value of making these predictions (and there were more) was in being able to come back and evaluate the experiment by comparing what actually happened versus what I predicted would happen. This is where we learn the most about our experiment and innovation.

After recording the learnings from an experiment we move into planning the next experiment. Innovation is a continuing process of planning, predicting, experimenting and evaluating.

The challenge that many of us face in our day to day projects is that we seldom take the time to come back and look at what we set out to achieve. The good news is even if we have completed a project but we don't record predictions we can usually retrospectively list the predictions that we had made. For example: "I recall that we made the assumption that the project would take 6 weeks to complete, that it would cost $35,000, that we would have 1500 customers sign up in the launch week and that we would have a 3% refund rate".

While it's always better to record your predictions before the event happens, applying retrospective predictions is still a valuable activty worth considering. 

To get a sense of how well you're innovating please consider taking the free 3 minute innovation diagnosis below.

Keep on Innovating.




Turn the literal into the lateral

Innovative thinking often means bringing a level of abstraction to your thinking that results in not just lots of ordinary ideas, but instead interesting, compelling and creative ideas that haven’t been thought of before. This level of abstraction is what results in us seeing and thinking about something differently, in a way that grabs us, perhaps amuses us and hopefully entices us to do something as a result.

Turning the obvious into the intriguing requires being lateral. Thinking laterally allows us to see things in different ways, which enable us to communicate things in different ways that intrigue and engage us.

To think more abstractly, you need to take your level of thinking higher than we normally would. 

The higher abstraction allows us to create reinterpretations of the concept we have and create more interest in our new idea. This abstraction can be applied to either a product or new process or even a marketing message.

In the following model, the bottom lower row represents a concrete detailed nitty-gritty type of message. This is essentially something that is obvious, literal and most likely forgettable. The higher level, which is more abstract, is intriguing, lateral and more than likely memorable. We don’t want to be too abstract otherwise people won’t get it, yet we don’t want to be too literal otherwise we won’t grab anyone’s attention and make them pause to think.


Imagination is a skill we all have—whether it is the ability to imagine a disaster happening at home if the dog gets out or being able to imagine a new way of servicing a client that has never been done before.

If I were to ask you to imagine a totally new piece of technology that you could invent and apply in your world, you may be able to do it. However, chances are that you would struggle with it. More than likely, you would come up with a variation of something that already exists. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s innovation to create a variation. Engineers tend to work well with variations and incremental innovation. 

A good innovator finds innovative leaps that may be re-inventions or totally new inventions. They do this by lifting their level of thinking. Innovation that comes from variation happens because we think on a fairly concrete level. Big, innovative leaps come from starting to think on an abstract level.

Psychologists call these construal levels, but I like to call them logical levels. The lower the logical level, the more concrete, specific and detailed the thinking. The higher the logical level, the more abstract the thinking. The challenge in looking for new ideas is lifting the level of abstraction higher than concrete detailed thinking. 

Here’s an example. If we wanted to innovate on the induction program at a large organisation and asked for some ideas, here’s what generally would happen.

The mind will gravitate to our last induction experience and recall the relevant materials, methodologies and information that we remember. This is called anchoring, and we use assumptions based on our past experiences to help formulate thoughts and make sense of the situation. The only drawback to relying on our assumptions is that we inadvertently look to create ideas based on already existing assumptions, not assumptions of what could be.

If our experience of an induction included a big fat induction manual and sitting in a room all on our own, then we’ll use that as our base assumption on which to start generating ideas. We might start thinking of ideas such as, ‘No one has time to read the whole manual’ or ‘Reading is boring, we should have some videos instead’. Or even better, ‘Why not have a group of people being inducted at the same time so they meet some new people’. The ideas continue. Yes, they are all good ideas and an improvement on what might have been before, yet it doesn’t really shout POSSIBILITY does it?

Good innovators allow themselves to be more abstract. Some might call it being conceptual. An innovator will start by asking ‘What does induction mean and what’s it really about?’  or “How else could it be interpreted? With this type of thinking, we are simply exploring and utilising curiosity. 

For the induction example. Induction could be interpreted as:

Helping people to learn the ropes
Unpacking the organisation’s processes
Helping people join the team
Introducing people to the team
Welcoming people
Initiating people

After having poured over those abstract interpretations, good innovators start to consider people’s needs, desires and potential responses. They think, ‘I don’t want them to feel alienated and wondering if they’ve made a bad decision coming to the organisation. How could I really welcome them?’ 

The more a designer thinks this way, the more ideas they have: ‘How about we have a welcome party at morning tea, with a welcome cake?’ ‘Maybe throughout the day we send in the creator of each one of key business process maps and take them through them step by step?’

Abstraction and changing the level of construance comes naturally to some people. For others, it feels awkward and clunky at first, yet when you’ve done it once, it becomes easier. In a short time, you’ll be jumping straight into that high level and coming up with original ideas that your colleagues think are fantastic. 

Welcome to the world of possibility!

One last thing - I'm running a half day commercial innovation summit with the Sydney Business School & Wollongong University on the 29th of July in the Sydney CBD. Great for those looking for  innovation breakthroughs - be them in process or product innovation.





I come across a few organisations who have set up their own innovation teams or design thinking teams to create innovation for organisations. While the notion of having a smart team to develop ideas is admirable in reality it falls short on what they are trying to achieve - which is to innovate across an organisation.

   The reason why they fail is that they have separate units, that are isolated from the whole organisation. This means that whilst they might come up with some good ideas, the rest of the organisation (who incidentally are the ones who will have to execute the ideas) are more than likely receive any blame if the ideas don't succeed.

   Herein lies the problem. Innovation is not a separate skill reserved for the special chosen few. The more we prevent everyone from innovating the more other people will resent innovation, and especially resent the people who are allowed to innovate.

   Much of this stilted thinking mentality stems from the old notion of the R&D department. Too many organisations still think of innovation helping to invent the next widget. While it's important to continually create new products, innovation can also be applied to the processes & services we have in our organisations. These are all proven areas that can have just as much commercial return if not more than innovating on product.

   So if we can't have separate innovation teams who's going to spearhead innovation within the organisation.? This is a good question, because leading innovation is different to executing innovation. Innovation leaders should be there to help facilitate innovate either by teaching innovation skills, facilitating insight, ideation & prototyping sessions not to mention encouraging people to innovate. Keeping this type of innovative potential locked away in a separate team fosters resentment and a resistance to accept other peoples ideas.

   So how do we find or create these innovation leaders and facilitators? Innovation like other key business skills is a skill that anyone can learn and apply. All you need is good innovation training, step by step innovation processes that people can follow and some work on creating behaviours that lead to innovative cultures.

In my latest client research (as documented in my latest book Innovation Archetypes), I've identified 4 key phases to innovation that allow sustainable and profitable commercial innovation. Within each one of these phases there are a number of professionals trained with skills & mindsets that excel in innovating. After diagnosing an organisation's innovation strengths and weaknesses it's easy to look at recruiting or training strategies to strengthen any weaknesses in order to allow consistent innovation. Any professional can adopt the key innovative principles of what I call Innovation Archetypes (those that epitomise innovation).

   This might all sound expensive and time consuming. The reality is it doesn't have to be. With access to the right step by step processes anyone can become a world class innovator and any team can start to create world class innovations.

   Rather than look at isolating innovation teams, focus on developing innovative facilitators and acquiring innovation processes so that everyone becomes equipped to innovate. Follow this up with some clear innovation objectives and KPIs such as the number of insights, ideas &  prototypes etcetera that you would like to create each month or each business quarter. 

Finally ensure you develop innovation rituals that encourage innovation. This might vary from innovation 'show and tells' from outside of the industry, celebrating failures, going on field trips and having a 'most improved innovator award'.

   Separate innovation teams are expensive investments that fail to deliver consistent. It's better to invest in training and equipping facilitators throughout the whole organisation with simple tools so that innovation becomes integrated, accessible and a powerhouse engine of profitability for your organisation.

Go and integrate vs. isolate. 

If you suspect that you could get better at innovating, we've got the perfect tool and event for you. Take a tour of our upcoming commercial innovation summit.

From little things big things grow

Innovation doesn't have be big, in fact the smaller actions can bring big returns. Just the other day I was at a cafe with a friend and when my chai latte came out I found myself smiling.  

The reason for this was the anchor motif that was created in the top of the latte. This was the symbol that the cafe used in decorations and branding (it was a beachside cafe). 

A very little action that made me appreciate it a lot more. 

What are the little actions you can do to bring a smile to a clients face?

 Anyone can create small innovations  

Anyone can create small innovations  



The 'who' and 'how' of testing your ideas.

The 'who' and 'how' of testing your ideas.

This article is all about user groups, test groups, market groups whatever you want to call them and how to best use them in the innovation of your new product, process or service.

Test groups in short are most often a small representational group that personify some of the key attributes of a potential customer or user of a product, process or service. Test groups/ user groups have been used in a variety of industries and can range from advertising focus groups, entertainment test audiences, user experience test groups, clinical trial groups and product test groups to name a few.

One of the most successful test groups in the world meet in the showers every work day. What on earth does shaving and showers have in common with innovation you might be thinking. A lot in fact. It happens to be the way that Gillette use test groups to test their prototypes of their latest shaving equipment. Employees are encouraged to shower and shave at their workplace (which has specially designed bathrooms to cater for this) in order to gain valuable feedback and ideas on how to improve their shaving equipment. If Gillette can have a great user group, you can too.

Market researchers like to think they have all of this test group stuff sorted and that the only way you can effectively test a new product is by using their very expensive services. Whilst it's true that market researchers are good at what they do, we don't all have to have double psychology degrees or two way mirrored glass in order to start testing out our new innovation.

Here's some simple things to consider when wanting to use a test group to test your latest prototype or potential innovation.

To test your innovation try asking some of the following questions:
What are your intentions are about the product, process or new service?
Who's it intended to be used by?
When is it intended to be used? What time, what day of the week, what season?
Where is it intended to be used? Internally, externally, in an office, on a phone?
How is it intended to be used? Sitting down, standing up, when driving, when on computer?
What happens when it is used? when it isn't being used?

Selecting and recruiting your user/ test group
To find out who to test your innovation on, try considering some of the following questions:  
Do your potential user group represent the typical type of user/ customer?
Does the group cater for a variety of demographics including, sex, age, profession, location, experience?

Does the proposed user group need to have a prior experience with the product, process or service?
Will the user group be biased by prior knowledge or prior experience?
Is familiarity a crucial part to the user group knowing how to use it?

Biases can adversely affect the learnings gained from a user group. Consider whether your user group be likely to behave differently in order to impress, show how smart they are, or any other modified behaviour?

Observer/ observation
Is the use of the product, service or process going to be happening in their typical natural environment?
Are the observers the normal people they would have around them?
Is it possible to have other people who are in their natural environment 'day in day out' do the observation for you?

Do you notice any difficulties that the user might be having with the said innovation? Difficulties in understanding what its used for, how to use it, how to start it, open it, change things, stop it etcetera? 

Questions to ask, topics to address
It's a good idea to work on both open ended questions and closed questions. For example a closed ended question might be "is it easy to use?" Whilst an open ended question you could ask is "what makes it specifically that makes this easy to use?" or "what specifically makes this difficult to work with?"

Ask for a specific response and you'll get what you need, if your question is too general, you'll get a monologue that's interesting but not very useful. Consider asking both quantitative and qualitative questions:

Qualitative questions might be: 
"What did you enjoy most about the service?" or "What would you do to improve the way this functions?" 

Quantitative questions might include:
"Which functions of our program are most important?" or "Which feature is the most appealing?"   

Consider asking questions that will ascertain what might make it more: 
More intuitive

Are there any more needs that the user might have with the product? For example - It needs a handle, or it needs a button, or the new sign up page needs a wizard to help show me how to fill out the form.

Are there any desires that the user would like it to be able to do beyond what already exists. For example "I wish I could hold it in one hand" or "I wish my assistant could fill out this form instead of me".

Are there any elements that annoy the user so much so that they wish it didn't exist or was changed. For example "it's so heavy I can't lift it" or "there's just too many questions and it takes too long".

Where and how are you going to recruit your study group?
Consider recruiting from - Existing clients, colleagues, family friends, suppliers, partners.
Facebook has become one of the simplest and easiest recruiting options that exist to find your user group. There's a wide range for choices that you can select from including demographics such as age, sex, education, career type, geographic location, mother, etcetera. 

It's worth noting that most of the time you can get the user to use their webcam to film and record their interaction with the innovation being tested. This can save you having to have them come in to your testing site.

How big should our test group size be?
When it comes to digital product usability tests the worlds leading UX design firm Nielsen Norman Group suggest that 5 people are enough to ascertain a good sense of usability on a product or process. 

What this means is that you don't have to have thousands of people to recruit, but a small number that over a good cross section will more than often suffice for you.

Tools for assessing
Digital eye tracking technology can help, though it pays to have the psychology of why people are looking at a certain thing sorted. A common mistake is to assume that just because they have been looking at certain part of the screen doesn;t necessarily mean it must be important. It could simply be be that they were looking at that part of the screen because it's so difficult to understand. 

The study group designer and observer need to think and determine"Why are they doing that?" "What's behind their decision and behaviour to do that?" "Can we modify it and do something else?"

The simplest, cheapest and most effective tool by far for surveys is to use - you can do a lot with a free account and you can do even more with the paid account, well worth the investment.

Hopefully by now you've realised that you don't have to be a behaviourist to be market, user group tester for your latest innovation. 

If you still need one more reason to believe that you don't have to be a professional market researcher, here it is. Leggo, one of the worlds most successful toy manufacturers use mothers as their behavioural team. Knowing that observing children in a different environment to their home would skew results, they realised it would be much wearier to study them at home, and even more effective if we just got their mothers to do the observation. That way there would be no external influencers onto the children. Simply a child playing with their toy and a doting mother keeping an eye and asking a question of their child from time to time. 

With the right questions, strategy and thinking anyone can engage their behavioural intelligence to study a user group and formulate ways to improve an innovation to make it world class. 

Good luck becoming that user group behaviouralist.       


Nils Vesk

Innovation speaker, author, consultant

Innovation mistake parties

Innovation mistake parties

 mistakes will happen

mistakes will happen

It's no surprise that innovation comes with a risk, and that includes the risk of failing from time to time. If we want a strong culture of innovation, it means our projects, products and services will unfortunately from time to time fail. How we deal and respond to those failures plays a crucial part in whether we build a strong innovative culture or suppress any future innovative thinking.

I had the great fortune of interviewing a colleague of mine recently who had some great views on the subject. Michael Henderson is one the worlds leading corporate anthropologists who helps organisations create high performing cultures.

I was asking Michael about innovation and failure and he said that celebrating failures is crucial to innovative cultures. In fact of all the organisations he has worked with across the world the most innovative ones were the ones who would celebrate their innovation failures.

Michael as he often does simplified the concept by telling a story of a common ritual that tribes use. Say a small hunting party has been out on a hunt to find a good meal for the tribe. After tracking a buffalo for the last 2 days, they are finally in close proximity and ready to make the final kill when accidentally one of the tribesman steps on a twig and the cracking twig sounds spooks the buffalo and it charges off into the distance. The tribesman now have to return to camp empty handed. 

Later that night around the fire, the tribesman who stepped on the twig has to explain to everyone why they're all hungry that night and why there's no buffalo on the menu all because of the mistake he made. He further explains what caused the mistake and how to avoid it next time. 

The next day when a new young hunter joins the hunting party you can be guaranteed that he will do everything he can to avoid the 'stepping on a twig mistake'.

This same tribal concept of acknowledging, sharing and learning from mistakes is what organisation with strong innovative cultures do regularly. W.L. Gore & Associates (the organisation that invented Gore-Tex the breathable fabric used in outdoor parkas) is a great example of just this. Their 'celebration of mistakes' plus an innovative flat business structure that encourages collaboration on projects are some of the key reasons it's made the list on Fortune Magazine's '100 Best Companies to Work For'. Gore & Associates not only celebrate the mistake and take ownership of it, most importantly they learn from it. 

Michael Henderson suggests that organisations should actually create champions of certain mistakes so that they become the 'go to' person on how to avoid that mistake from happening in the future. 

Risk is inherent in innovation. Whilst we can reduce this risk through prototyping, no innovation is ever guaranteed of success. The only thing we can guarantee is that we can always learn from the mistakes we make and use this knowledge to be better prepared for the next industry changing innovation.

Go ahead and celebrate those mistakes.


Nils Vesk