Risky Dirtbike

In the previous article, we discussed two ways of Reframing Risk:

  • Balancing Risks of Commission with Risks of Omission
  • The Risk-Opportunity Equation

This time, we’ll consider:

  • The Logic of Risk by Development Stage
  • Steps Forward

The Logic of Risk by Development Stage 

It’s our observation that loading the idea embryos with the risks and concerns of grown-up concepts often prevents them from getting the specific type and depth of attention that they need in the early stages to have the potential of growing up in a healthy way.

As innovationistas, we all succumb to it—putting practical concerns about launch first and foremost on our radar when doing innovation work. Even waaaaay early on. It's learned behavior - we can't help it.  Ambiguity sucks, and we're just more comfortable with getting something more concrete/tangible going. It's hard to let what happens in vagueness stay in vagueness. So, with this, we end up biting off more risk than we can chew so early in a development process, throwing all the fears appropriate later for launch onto fledgling ideas that aren't designed to take on those risks yet and just don't have the carrying capacity for them.  It’s not that all the obvious fears and concerns aren’t valid…they’re just too early! 

It’s a category error to mix up later-stage concerns and the earliest idea embryos.  

There are specific tasks to accomplish at each stage. It’s our observation that loading the idea embryos with the risks and concerns of grown-up concepts often prevents them from getting the specific type and depth of attention that they need in the early stages to have the potential of growing up in a healthy way. There’s enough real work to do for an idea at each specific stage.  

The central insight of various stage theories in human development is that a person gets to move on to the next developmental stage only after accomplishing the tasks of the current stage.  Stage/Gate NPD incorporated the same idea. For example, although infants start doing work on the building blocks leading to a complete grasp of object permanence as early as four months, they don’t get there fully until somewhere around 18 months. The full flowering of abstract, formal-operations cognition happens only in one’s late teens and early adulthood. By the same token, it’s just not a productive exercise in NPD to expect “The Answer” before you have a broad array of great possibilities. Set a high bar on expectations that are stage-specific, certainly, but don’t make the mistake of applying later-stage concerns prematurely. 

There should be a clear distinction between Concept Development early in an NPD process and then Product Development and Launch Preparedness in the middle and late stages. Let's look at it broadly first:

Concept Development versus Product Development: Some Important Distinctions

chart 1

Now let's go with a standard Stage-Gate Process to illustrate with a bit more detail: 

Stage 0 - Opportunity/Strategic Platform/Key Needs Identification
Stage 1 - Ideation and Concept Development within Strategic Platforms
Stage 2 - Business-Case Development/Initial Feasibility
Stage 3 - Product and Marketing Development
Stage 4 - Pilot/Testing
Stage 5 - Launch 

Consider now how each stage of development has its own Risks, Needs, Logic and Design Standards/Success Metrics:

Chart 2

“Will it actually sell?” comes up often very early in the process – such a question has perhaps seemed reasonable in the past, but shouldn’t it strike you as odd now? Isn’t this at least a little like your kids asking you, “Are We There Yet?” a half hour into a 12-hour car trip? Why would we be any less annoyed by it?  But we all try to be helpful when we get such wildly premature questions, so start speculating for or against the idea, but we have to call that out – it’s still just speculation. Quit wasting your time this way! Do the work. Do the right work at the right time. Worry much more about What Could Be early on so that you have the pleasant luxury of gradually pulling together What Is in detail later. The premature rush to solution often results in the irony of not having nearly enough for much of a solution.

...

Steps Forward

Let your worries be focused much more on, “Are we exploring enough?” upfront than, “Will it sell?” when that’s clearly unknowable yet.

Quick – who are the two or three people in your group or your company who would be the ones you’d give these two articles to (Part 1 and Part 2)?  Do it today. Per the logic of the last section, bite off only enough to chew for right now – don’t try to Reframe Risk Within Our Company, but do start seeing what you can do in your group. Later, where are the pockets of innovation excellence that would be fertile ground to start the broader conversation in various parts of your company? Which higher-up would be most receptive? Who/what are the potential Assistors to help out? This isn’t just an abstract exercise. Get on it. There’s no score if there aren’t any shots on goal.

Test some of this. Try doubling/trebling the number of Broad Opportunity Areas you consider early on, and doing at least as much with the time spent on, and the output of, ideation. Linus Pauling said, “The best way to get good ideas is first to get lots of ideas.”  You’re human and a conscientious one, so you’re going to worry, but let your worries be focused much more on, “Are we exploring enough?” upfront than, “Will it sell?” when that’s clearly unknowable yet.

Full disclosure – I am an eternal optimist, evidence largely be damned. I am drawn to thoughts like this excerpt from a recent commencement speech:

"There is a growing undercurrent coursing through the inner fiber of our country that is ‘awake.’ This culture recognizes that they don’t know – but that they have unprecedented access to answers. They know that better questions result in better answers. They imagine things, design experiments to test them — and learn and fail every day. This forces a ‘GET OVER IT’ culture of resilience for failure and a perseverance and humility and passion to press on.”[1] 

Whether anything close to this is your reality or not, shouldn’t we be about the business of building this kind of environment?  Start where you can.  Get bitten by the bug.  Love this work. Exercise some Zen-warrior “ruthless compassion” and refuse to accept the unhelpful old terms of the risk discussion. And if we may ask, please throw your thoughts into the mix. This is ideally just the start of a helpful conversation about something that matters so very much. We need your input. 




[1] Pot of Gold, Dylan Ratigan, Commencement to Union College Class of 2012, Delivered June 10, 2012

©2018 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved

Adam Hansen

Adam Hansen is co-author of the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward," and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go – an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies to incorporate the voice of the consumer in ideation and concept development.