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The Biggest Mistake in Opportunity Exploration


We often talk about innovation as a “pipeline.” If you break it down into the simplest of terms, you have:

  1. Opportunity Exploration at the beginning.
  2. Ideation and Concept Development in the middle.
  3. Launch at the end.

Opportunity Exploration is considered the most mysterious. Concept Development the most fastidious. Launch the most rewarding. But Ideation is always the one place that people find the most fun, the most energizing, and the most alluring.

This phenomena is why most marketers and market researchers short-change the Opportunity Exploration stage, and jump right into Ideation. Ideation seems like the beginning. You need ideas, you get ideas. Done. But many people don’t realize the importance of doing any kind of exploration.

Going into ideation with more strategic direction and information is critical to getting the back-half of the innovation pipeline right. And by “right,” I mean successful, profitable, getting your energy’s worth out of it…you get what I mean. But a big challenge my clients often talk about is the need to do ideation without wasting money/time going down a fruitless path. They want to focus on the right stuff, right from the get-go. I tell them: “When you’re thoughtful about Opportunity Exploration, you feel better about the ideation path you’re on.” Opportunity Exploration—as well as Convergence or Concept Development—is potentially more important than ideation. Why? You really have to spend twice as much time in those phases to expect anything good at the end.

I think a great metaphor for Opportunity Exploration is that it’s like buying a car. When most people look for a car, they’re compelled to buy based on how the car looks—and how they feel in it. But how it looks and feels isn’t really the most important part of the car—it’s actually the engine. The engine might not be the most visible component, but it is the only thing that makes the car GO.

Ideation and Launch are your “look and feel-goods.” But Opportunity Exploration is your engine. If that phase is running well, the rest will fall into place much better—and you’ll ultimately feel great when your innovation strategy is off and running.

P.S. My clients often say that they would love to include extra exploratory time, but just can’t afford another day out of the office. Time is money. That’s why I love adding an Inspire® Consumer Insight Accelerator component to the beginning of ideation sessions. The Accelerator helps amp up Opportunity Exploration without taking anyone offsite. And the results are truly inspiring.

Dina Pancoast

Dina Pancoast is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator as well as the developer of Ideas To Go’s Behavioral Innovation® Workshop. Dina has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and also studied mime and physical theatre at the Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Prior to joining Ideas To Go in 2014, Dina worked in the media industry as a creative process and strategy expert for radio, television, newspaper, and digital properties. Trained in Creative Problem Solving in 2004, she has facilitated hundreds of sessions for clients in every industry imaginable.