How To Get The Most Out of the Early Stages of Innovation

The Fuzzy Front End is called “fuzzy” because it refers to the early stages of innovation. It’s the point where you’re not quite sure of where you might go with an opportunity—or what the opportunities might even be. It’s a fine place, but it can prove to be a little daunting—especially for people who are less comfortable with uncertainty.

Fear not! While we call it the Fuzzy Front End, there are so many ways to bring in some focus when you’re in its midst. Let’s consider idea generation and concept development:

  1. First, it’s about setting the project purpose. So, we don’t want to just begin with, “Let’s generate ideas.” We need to know:

a. What type of ideas are needed—i.e., packaging, product, language, etc.

b. What the ideas need to mainly be about—and decide what’s in scope vs. what’s out of scope.

c. What the desired output is going to be (short pithy product ideas, list of claims, full blown positioning concepts). 

2. Then, take some time to broadly explore the opportunities around your purpose—and set some areas of focus. That way, the ideation refrains from being random, but rather focused around the areas you find to be most strategically important. Creating these boundaries is not about limiting creativity—it’s about maintaining focus on the prize, while stretching your creativity within a set area…allowing you be as creative as possible.

3. Next it’s time to set criteria, and ensure that the resulting ideas are examined through a strategic lens. This is a smart way to determine which ideas should make the cut vs. just going with your personal favorites. While criteria shouldn’t be totally prescriptive, it should lend some structure in determining which ideas make it to the next round.

4. During the final step of concept development, there are several ways to bring (and maintain) focus:

a. Determine what elements should be included in each concept, such as an Insight, Benefit, Reasons To Believe, Claims, etc.

b. Identify overall themes for your concepts to ensure there are enough concepts per theme.

c. Decide how many short term vs. longer term ideas there are across all your concepts. 

So, while the entire process during the Fuzzy Front End includes a lot of stretching, speculating, ideating and pondering, it can—and should—be focused, too. Ultimately, it ensures that at the end of the day the concepts you develop make strategic sense, and provide a perfect fit for your innovation needs.

©2013 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Beth Storz

Beth Storz is President and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go. She co-authored the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward." Beth has been a guest on many innovation podcasts and her work has been featured in media outlets such as HuffPost and Fortune. Beth holds a BS in Business Management from Cornell University and a MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, and has worked in brand management at some of the premier consumer packaged goods companies—including Unilever, Kraft and Nabisco. Since joining Ideas To Go, Beth has established herself as a leader in the Innovation landscape and designed and facilitated projects for hundreds of companies—from CPG to financial services to pharmaceuticals.