Improving innovation through better questions

Dwayne Spradlin, President and CEO of InnoCentive, recently contributed an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that identified asking the right questions and defining the problem as critical elements of successful innovation: “When developing new products, processes, or even businesses, most companies aren’t sufficiently rigorous in defining the problems they’re attempting to solve and articulating why those issues are important. Without that rigor, organizations miss opportunities, waste resources, and end up pursuing innovation initiatives that aren’t aligned with their strategies.” Before moving forward with any major initiative Mr. Spradlin recommends that organizations ask themselves a series of questions including…

• What is the problem? What revenue or opportunity is being lost? What competitive disadvantage exists? What is it costing the company?
• What is the desired outcome in terms of business benefit and not systems or processes – what do we want to be able to do when all is said and done?
• Who in the organizations stands to benefit and why?
• Does the initiative match organizational objectives and priorities?
• What has already been tried that didn’t work?
• How will we ensure that the initiative is carried out?
• What are the internal and external constraints to implementing a solution?

The benefits of an organization asking itself these questions are clear. We at Isurus believe that exploring these questions about the market general and individual prospects can also benefit enterprise technology providers. Many enterprise sales opportunities have been knocked off course when late in the game a technology investment didn’t match with organizational priorities and it has been well documented that a lack of clarity has contributed to many implementation failures. The exercise of evaluating the market and individual prospects through the lens of the questions outlined above provides multiple benefits…

• At the market level it identifies opportunities, sizes those opportunities and identifies hurdles to overcome.
• On an individual account level it helps qualify prospects, identify the barriers likely to arise and keeps the sales process moving forward.
• In some cases providing a framework of questions and what other companies are doing can help guide prospects through the sales process by helping them better articulate their needs, justify the investment and achieve a successful implementation.

As with most things, asking better questions upfront gives you better results at the end.