The Innovation Flywheel

Innovation is not a quick win, and if you’ve read Jim Collins, you know what’s coming. Innovation is a discipline that is hard to establish across large organizations, because many stubborn obstacles stand in the way – many of those obstacles simply don’t exist at small startups, which is why they can pounce on new ideas with tremendous pace and energy.

Pushing a flywheel is hard – the first turn feels like an impossibility. But slowly, turn after turn, momentum gathers, and the wheel starts to store up rotational energy. Eventually the wheel is spinning so hard through it’s own momentum, that it’s resistant to changes in rotational speed. Getting from that first push, to watching the machine run on its own energy, is exactly what we see when large organizations try to embed a culture and discipline of innovation.

The problem most companies face, is simply sticking to the task – they don’t persist in pushing the flywheel, but rather break momentum, change direction, switch tools, try again. Most innovation strategies aren’t bad – sticking to a good enough one is better than stopping and searching for a silver bullet.

To build the momentum necessary, some of the obstacles in the way must be worked on in parallel, for example:

  • A culture of innovation takes time, for most organizations this means building advocates, individuals who distribute seeds of innovation throughout the business, shaping the way people interact and view innovation at the company (usually in a different way to the past).
  • A process which handles diverse input. When you ask for input, you’ll get ideas you want for sure, but also ideas you don’t want – how you handle those is critical to building momentum. Sometimes you need to seize opportunities as they arise, do you have a fast track process for those cases? This is not easy when companies prefer to standardize and regulate processes.
  • A discipline of prototyping. Ideas are rarely fully formed, they are only fragments of a solution. Rapid prototyping enables you to make faster decisions, giving ideas room to breathe before they are over-examined, or unfairly killed off. Plus you gain tremendous learning, which fuels more innovation.
  • Get managers on board. Middle-management is a large obstacle to getting things done – their interests typically don’t align with the new innovation strategy. Getting them on side requires time, education, and small wins that mean something to their daily work. Watch out, not doing it means serious momentum bashing.
  • Collect small-wins. You’ll want to implement cost saving and efficiency ideas right from day one, those successes can be filtered back into the report card for your innovation targets. Some companies make the mistake of looking for big wins too early. Small wins build momentum quickly, especially when you get lots of them.
  • Create transparency. Let’s face it, employees think you don’t care, and you’re not serious about this idea program. They’ve probably seen a similar program 18 months before. Transparency is critical to winning over the skeptics. Transparency in everything, from how you will review ideas, how you’ll progress them when selected, and exactly what happened to those that made it. Celebrate the wins, make it about the people involved. But also celebrate the process – recognize people who simply take part.
  • Embrace failure. Ah! This one hurts. Nobody wants failure … or do they? Some folks actually seek it out, because it’s another step closer to getting it right. Show me one more time why that broke again? Taking that approach, coupled with the transparency and prototyping above, and you have a potent combination for innovation. This is the one that brings in the tinkerers, the experimenters, the entrepreneurs. Get them on side, and now you’re talking.

You may have even more tricky obstacles – including doing all this on a tight budget – but we can be sure of one thing: pushing slowly on the flywheel, day by day, is better than flirting with new tools, new strategies, new roles. Keep pushing!

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

The 10 Methods of The Lean Startup

“Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”

The Lean Startup was published in 2011, yet its impact has been enormous. Companies are still getting to grips with the ideas set out in the book, most of which were not new in the first place. The value of those ideas and methods are perhaps even more valuable to large established organizations than to the startups which bear the books name. Author Eric Ries even defines a startup broadly as any “human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” Let’s take a look at how the methodology helps us to innovate and create value for the customer.

1. Build-Measure-Learn

If there is one idea which has transformed the way we pursue innovation today more than any other, it’s the idea of using the scientific method to handle uncertainty. This means defining a hypothesis, building a small product or feature which can test that hypothesis, then learn what happens, and adjust accordingly. This simple method is showing tremendous results, and enables companies to make small bets on many ideas at once, and allow the findings to determine which ideas move through the gates.

Build-Measure-Learn can be applied to almost anything, not just new products. You can test a customer service idea, a management review process, website text and offers, or a new feature to an existing product. It’s important that you can clearly test and validate the hypothesis though – you must be able to gather enough data or metrics to measure the results of the build.

The goal is to find the quickest way to iterate through the Build-Measure-Learn cycle. You’ll want to find out whether it’s worth another cycle, or to stop and move on to another idea. This means defining a very specific idea to test, and minimum items to measure. With products, you’re looking to test whether customers actually want or need it.

“We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”

Source: The Lean Startup

2. The Minimal Viable Product (MVP)

Traditional product development involved a lot of upfront work to define the specification of the product, and significant time and money invested in building it out. The lean startup encourages building only the amount of product that is needed to iterate through a single cycle of the Build-Measure-Learn loop. This is the minimal viable product.

“The MVP is that version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn loop with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time.”

You don’t necessarily need to write a line of code to create an MVP – it could simply be a slide deck describing the customer journey, or a set of design mockups. As long as you can test your hypothesis with real customers, and get enough validation to move through another cycle of learning.

3. Validated Learning

A fundamental requirement for the lean startup is to ensure you are testing a hypothesis with the right learning in mind. It’s very easy to focus on so called vanity metrics, which might give you the feeling of making progress, but actually don’t tell you anything about the value of the product.

The number of likes on Facebook might be a vanity metric; perhaps even for Facebook the number of accounts created is a vanity metric, the real value lies in the average amount of time spent on Facebook per day, per user – this tells you something about the true value and stickiness of the platform.

“By all accounts, what impressed investors the most were two facts about Facebook’s early growth … More than half of the users came back to the site every single day. This is an example of how a company can validate its value hypothesis – that customers find the product valuable.”

Lean Startup author Eric Ries provides an example from his own experience. IMVU was showing the chart below to their management and investors, painting a good picture – registrations were going up like a hockey stick graph. However, it was not showing whether users actually valued the service, and it was hiding the marketing costs to acquire new registrations. This was a chart showing vanity metrics, and not testing a hypothesis designed to give validated learning.

Source: The Lean Startup

4. Innovation Accounting

“Innovation accounting enables startups to prove objectively that they are learning how to grow a sustainable business.”

The process is done with three steps, as follows.

  1. Establish the baseline. You can run an MVP test to set some benchmark data points. This might involve a smoke test, with pure marketing, just to see if there interest from potential customers. It might involve a sign-up form online to see if customers would buy a product or service. From here you can set the baseline for the first cycle of the Build-Measure-Learn; even if the numbers are bad, it is a starting point from which to improve.
  2. Tuning the Engine. With the baseline established, the next step is to make a single change which can be tested to improve upon it. Rather than making many changes at once, focus on one single thing. This might be the design of the signup form; does it increase the number of conversions? Tuning the engine should be done carefully, by testing one hypothesis at a time.
  3. Pivot or Persevere. After making several iterations through the cycle, you should be moving up from the baseline towards the ideal goal set out in the business plan. If this is not happening, it should be obvious because of the incremental learning steps taken along the way.

5. The Pivot

“What differentiates the success stories from the failures is that the successful entrepreneurs had the foresight, the ability, and the tools to discover which parts of their plans were working brilliantly and which were misguided, and adapt their strategies accordingly.”

Making the decision to pivot is one of the hardest aspects of the Lean Startup method, because founders and entrepreneurs are emotionally tied to their products, energy and money have been ploughed into them. Problems such as vanity metrics and not testing the right hypothesis can lead teams down the wrong path; if the hypothesis isn’t clear, then failure can seem elusive, because you don’t know with certainty that this endeavor isn’t working. “Launch it and see what happens” always results in a positive outcome: you will indeed see what happens!

A pivot is not necessarily a failure, it means that you will change one of the fundamental hypothesis that you started out with. There are different variations on the pivot:

  • Zoom-in pivot. A single feature in the product now becomes the entire product.
  • Zoom-out pivot. The opposite of above. A whole product becomes a single feature in something much larger.
  • Customer segment pivot. The product was right, but the original customer segment wasn’t; changing to a different customer is necessary, but the product remains the same.
  • Customer need pivot. Through validated learning it becomes clear that a more important problem needs to be solved for the customer than the original.
  • Platform pivot. Often platforms start out as an application, but due to success it grows to become a platform ecosystem.
  • Business architecture pivot. Geoffrey Moore’s idea of switching from high margin, low volume, to low margin, high volume.
  • Value capture pivot. Changing how value is captured fundamentally changes everything else in the business (marketing strategy, cost structure, product, etc).
  • Engine of growth pivot. Startups typically follow one of viral, sticky, or paid growth models, according to Ries. Changing from one to the other might be necessary to fuel faster growth.
  • Channel pivot. The internet has created many more channel options for startups, and complex sales or advertising channels are far less dominant. A startup has many more options from the get-go.
  • Technology pivot. A new technology can offer substantial benefits in cost, efficiency, or performance, and allow you to keep everything else the same (value creation, customer segment, channel, etc).

“Pivots are a permanent fact of life for any growing business. Even after a company achieves initial success, it must continue to pivot.”

6. Small Batches

The story goes that a guy has to stuff newsletters into envelopes with the help of his two daughters. The children suggest they first fold all the newsletters, then put stamps on every letter, then write the address – do every task one by one. The dad wanted to do it differently, completing every envelope fully before moving onto the next. They competed to see which method was faster.

The dad’s method won, because of the approach known as “single-piece flow”, often used in lean manufacturing. It seems more efficient to repeat the same task over and over, because we assume we’ll get better and faster at it as we go. But individual performance is not as important as the overall performance of the system. Time is lost between the ‘batches’, when you have to restack the letters, and prepare the envelopes. When you consider the whole process as one single batch, you improve efficiency. Check out this video evidence:

Another benefit to small batches, is that you can spot an error immediately. If you started the other way, and found that after folding all of the letters, they didn’t actually fit properly into the envelopes, you’d have to start all over again. The small batch approach would find this error right from the start.

“The biggest advantage of working in small batches is that quality problems can be identified much sooner. This is the origin of Toyota’s famous andon cord, which allows any worker to ask for help as soon as they notice any problem, such as a defect in a physical part, stopping the entire production line if it cannot be corrected immediately.”

7. The Andon Cord

As just mentioned, the Andon Cord was used by Toyota to allow any employee along the production line to call a halt to the system if a defect was discovered. The longer a defect continues along the production, the harder and more costly it is to remove. Spotting a problem immediately is highly efficient, even if it means stopping the whole production line until it’s addressed. The method is the root cause of Toyota’s historically high levels of quality.

“The key to the andon cord is that it brings work to a stop as soon as an uncorrectable quality problem surfaces – which forces it to be investigated. This is one of the most important discoveries of the lean manufacturing movement: you cannot trade quality for time.”

Eric Ries explains that at IMVU they implemented a detailed set of automatic checks which ran every day, they would ensure the basic workings of the site (such as a ‘purchase’ button) still operated. This meant that any production errors were caught quickly, and automatically; and no more changes were put into production until it was addressed. It was the programming equivalent of the andon cord.

8. Continuous Deployment

For some it may seem a little dated in 2016, given the standardization of SaaS applications, but for many, continuous deployment is a scary and unimaginable scenario. The idea is that you are constantly updating your live production systems, all day, every day.

As early as 2009, IMVU were running up to fifty updates a day to production code. This was possible because a significant investment into test scripts – around 15,000 test scripts would run over 70 times a day, simulating everything from user clicks on the browser, to running back-end code in the database. To get a feeling for how this was done, read Timothy Fitz’s (IMVU developer) blog post about it.

Wealthfront is another case study in the book (an online investment management tracker). The company operates in an SEC-regulated environment, yet practices true continuous deployment, with more than a dozen production releases every day. You can read more about their setup on the Wealthfront Engineering Blog.

“The essential lesson is not that everyone should be shipping fifty times per day but that by reducing batch size, we can get through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop more quickly than our competitors can. The ability to learn faster from customers is the essential competitive advantage that startups must possess.”

9. Kanban

Kanban is another technique borrowed from the lean manufacturing world. Ries provides an example from Grockit (an online skills improvement tool for standardized tests). Grockit creates ‘stories’ in their product development process; stories are developed to build a feature, they include what the benefit and outcome is for the end user. These stories are then validated to see if they work – a split test is used to confirm the improvement to the customer experience. Kanban has four states:

  • Backlog – items which are ready to be worked on, but have not yet started
  • In Progress – items currently under development
  • Built – development has finished work on the item, it’s ready for the customer
  • Validated – item has been released, and it’s been positively validated

If the story failed the validation test, it would be removed from the product. Good practice is to set that none of the four stages (buckets) can contain more than three projects at any one time. If a project has been built, it cannot move into the validated stage until there is room for it (less than three already in there). Similarly work cannot begin on backlog items until the in progress bucket frees up.

Source: The Lean Startup

A highly valuable outcome of using this method is that teams begin to measure their productivity according to the validated learning from the customer, and not the amount of new features produced.

“I have implemented this system with several teams, and the initial result is always frustrating: each bucket fills up, starting with the ‘validated’ bucket … Pretty soon everyone gets the hang of it … As engineers look for ways to increase their productivity, they start to realize that if they include the validation exercise from the beginning, the whole team can be more productive.”

10. The Five Whys

Most technical problems have at their root a human cause. Using the five whys technique allows you to get closer to that root cause. It’s deceptively simple, but hugely powerful, and Eric Ries believes most problems which are discovered tend to stem from lack of appropriate training – but on the surface either look like a technical issue, or individual person’s mistake. As an example, Ries provides a case from IMVU where customers were complaining about a recent product update:

  1. A new release disabled a feature for customers. Why? Because a particular server failed.
  2. Why did the server fail? Because an obscure subsystem was used in the wrong way.
  3. Why was it used in the wrong way? The engineer who used it didn’t know how to use it properly.
  4. Why didn’t he know? Because he was never trained.
  5. Why wasn’t he trained? Because his manager doesn’t believe in training new engineers because he and his team are “too busy.”

The technique is particularly useful for startups, as it allows them to find the optimal speed for making improvements. You could invest a huge amount in training, but it might not be the optimal thing to do at that stage of development – but by looking at root causes to problems, you can identify whether there are core areas that need attention, and not just always focus on the surface issues.

We also tend to overreact to things which happen in the moment, and the Five Whys helps us to take a deeper look at what is really happening. There can be a tendency to use the Five Whys as the Five Blames at first, with team members looking to say who was at fault for each step. The goal of the Five Whys is to find chronic problems caused by bad process, and not bad people. It’s also essential that everybody is in the room together when the analysis is done; all of the people impacted by the issue (including management and customer service reps). When blame has to be taken, it’s important management (or the CEO) takes the hit for not having a system-level solution in place to prevent the issue.

Good practices for getting started with the Five Whys:

  • Mutual trust and empowerment. Be tolerant of all mistakes the first time; never allow the same mistake to be made twice.
  • Focus on the system-level. Most mistakes are because of a flawed-system, keep people focused on solving problems at that level.
  • Face unpleasant truths. The method is going to surface unpleasant facts about the company, and the effort to fix those early difficult issues is going to be substantial. It can easily turn into the Five Blames. This is where senior management buy-in is critical, to act as referee, ensuring that the process is followed.
  • Start small, be specific. You want to get the process embedded, so start with small issues, with small solutions. Focus on running the process regularly, involving as many people as you can.
  • Appoint a Five Whys master. This person is the primary change agent, so they need to have a good degree of authority to get things done. They are accountable for the follow-up and judging whether the investments in preventing problems are paying off or not.

Using the Five Whys alone is a great way to move towards a more adaptive organization. But it’s deceptively hard – those with young children know how challenging it can be!

“Some of the engineers I have trained to use it believe that you can derive all other Lean Startup techniques from the Five Whys. Coupled with working in small batches, it provides the foundation a company needs to respond quickly to problems as they appear, without over-investing or over-engineering.”

The Lean Startup is one of the best books on innovation and new growth creation in the past decade. It’s full of ideas like the above list, which can be implemented on their own, or in combination with the whole methodology. If you’re not using the Lean Startup ideas in your company already, you should be looking to do so soon.

This post was originally published on the HYPE Innovation blog.

Using the Ten Types of Innovation Framework

Innovation tends to focus around product performance – new products, new updates, new features. That’s why companies often think of R&D investment as the ingredient for innovation. But there’s plenty of innovation to be had in the areas that surround the product. By looking at successful innovators, we can see that they are adept at finding breakthroughs in these surrounding areas. The Ten Types of Innovation is a methodology that is particularly useful at helping us think more broadly, let’s take a look at how it works.

Since the late 90’s, the Doblin group has been working with the Ten Types framework, led by Larry Keeley. Doblin is now part of Deloitte, and the framework has been encapsulated into a book, The Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs. The ten types are split into three areas. At the center is the Offering, which contains the core product elements, and how the product is organized and integrated. To the left is Configuration, how the company is organized to make a profit. And to the right is the Experience, how the company interacts with the customer. Let’s look at each of the elements in detail.

Profit Model

  • How the organization turns its value into profit. Innovative examples would be Gillette flipping their profit model from expensive razors, with cheap refills, to selling the handles cheaply and charging more for the blades – thus teaching consumers that blades are disposable, and they don’t need to be sharpened and maintained; or Hilti, who provide power tools for the construction industry, and offer a subscription service which means companies no longer need to own the tools, which removes the need to service and maintain expensive equipment.


  • The value that is created by working with others. We are evermore connected today, and it becomes essential for firms to work with others, to gain processes, technology, or brand credibility. Open Innovation is itself a form of Network innovation – leveraging the skills and expertise of people outside your firm. The US retail firm Target is a good example, with its extensive partnering network, including Michael Graves, the architect who designed a range of kitchen appliances.


  • How you organize the talent and assets within your company. When done well, these are very hard for competitors to copy. W. L. Gore is famous for its flat organizational structure, teams are often small, and driven by commitments rather than management orders; all employees become shareholders after a year. Zappos, and its Holacracy, would be another structural innovation example.


  • How a company goes about producing its products and services – its core operations. Sometimes it’s a patented approach, or a breakthrough methodology such as Toyota’s lean production. Zara has risen to prominence in the retail industry with its reimagining of the fashion supply chain, taking a sketch through to shop floor within weeks.

Product Performance

  • The quality, feature set, capability of a firm’s products. This is often considered the total sum of innovation, and revolves around the R&D department. It’s certainly important, but only one of the ten types. Examples could be Dyson’s breakthrough dual cyclone technology with no bag, taking 15 years and more than 5,000 prototypes to produce; or Corning’s Gorilla Glass, a core component of many leading technology brands.

Product System

  • How you create additional value by adding other firms’ products and services to yours, or how you combine multiple products to create significantly more value. The web browser Mozilla is built on open-source software, and allows developers to create add-ons to enrich the product. Oscar Mayer offers “lunchables”, combinations of food snacks for school lunches, making it easy for parents, and fun for kids.


  • How you make your product easier to use, more enjoyable, or get better value from. Zappos is famous for its customer service, with employees empowered to take the initiative to solve the customer’s issue – whether it means spending hours on the phone with them, or sending them flowers. Men’s Wearhouse offer lifetime pressing on their suits and coats.


  • How you connect with your customer. It differs from Network, in that it’s not about whom you work with to make those connections, but more about the ways in which you connect. Nike’s NikeTown flagship stores offer a rich and unique experience for shoppers, with product launches, and athletic staff, including ex-basketball professionals.


  • Your brand can be a powerful innovation in itself, it can represent the values you stand for, or a simple but big idea that resonates with customers. Virgin is a classic example of brand, led by Sir Richard Branson, and companies such as Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Records, Virgin Trains, and Virgin Galactic; Virgin stands for being different and fun, spicing up the industries in which it ventures. Intel is another powerful brand, making a computer component so valuable that having the “Intel Inside” on the box elevates the value of the overall product.

Customer Engagement

  • How you understand and then leverage the desires and needs of your customers. They can be hard to spot, often sitting among one of the other nine types. The question is how to interact with your customers and delight them? Blizzard Entertainment, who makes World of Warcraft, is an expert at customer engagement – understanding what makes users play for hundreds of hours, and what drives them to collaborate and connect with other users. Apple of course is another company that thrives on the engagement of its devotees.

Combinations of types are most powerful

When a company works to combine multiple types of innovations, they often produce powerful results. The authors of the book studied companies considered innovative in 2011, grouping them into average and top innovators, and found that top innovators (those repeatedly launching successful offerings) were integrating twice as many types of innovation as the average innovators.

(Source: Ten Types of Innovation)

(Source: Ten Types of Innovation)

Compared to the S&P 500, companies that integrated multiple types of innovations were more successful over a period of time. You can see clearly the results of those companies with five or more of the ten types.

“Almost all of the enterprises that we celebrate as leading innovators routinely use multiple types of innovation – and handily outperform the average firms that innovate more naively … Significantly, the top innovators outperform the S&P 500. Integrating more types of innovation can help deliver superior financial returns.”

(Source: Ten Types of Innovation)

Nike Example

Product Performance company at its core, Nike has made leading sportswear and equipment for decades. In 1985 they made a remarkable innovation, by signing then rookie basketball star Michael Jordan to endorse the Nike brand. This trend of sportstar endorsements continues strongly today, to help the likes of Nike and Adidas maintain market dominance.

In 1990, Niketown was launched – a Channel innovation, to present ‘retail as theatre’. The flagship stores cost millions, and were clearly never going to produce a return on investment by selling goods in store. Instead the initiative was funded by the advertising budget; the stores could do more to build Brand innovation than any ad campaign.

In recent times Nike has launched Nike+, a leading Product System which is integrated into the sportswear range, and allows runners and athletes to track their movements. It also integrated with Apple products in a Network innovation. These steps alone touch on half of the ten types, and as a result Nike is consistently one of the leading brand names in the world.

Method Example

Founded in 2000, Method is a design and sustainability conscious home care products company. In 2012 they were acquired by Ecover to form the world’s “largest green cleaning company.” The products kill germs, but are produced without the use of toxic chemicals. Method follows a Process called greensourcing, which tracks the environmental impact of making its products, and it outsources production to many subcontractors to keep the company agile and nimble (Structure).

The Brand is built around the values of greensourcing, and has built a strong following among design and lifestyle blogs, with the packaging created by industrial designer Karim Rashid. Method has a community site called People Against Dirty, which offers deals, stories, and insights to future products. The movement brings in people who are more broadly supportive for environmental sustainability, as well as developing Customer Engagement. With its core Product Performance offering, Method innovates around half of the ten types like Nike.

Ten Types for Idea Campaigns

If you’re stuck getting ideas beyond product performance, you could launch a series of idea campaigns to tackle different aspects of the ten types. If you really want to push for diverse thinking, imagine running ten campaigns to gather input on the full spectrum. While R&D is the typical audience for product innovations, consider how useful HR would be for thinking through Structure innovations; Sales and Finance for Profit Model innovations; Marketing for Brand and Customer Engagement innovations.

The ten types enable you to structure the thinking, and focus collaborative participation on one particular area – this focus, as always, can help produce high quality ideas. The framework is easy to understand and communicate, and therefore a useful way to engage your audience.

The book also includes ‘innovation tactics’, which are small sources of inspiration to generate new thinking under each of the ten types. For example, here are a few tactics listed under Profit Model:

  • Forced Scarcity: Limit the supply of offerings available, by quantity, time frame, or access, to drive up demand and/or prices.
  • Metered Use: Allow customers to pay only for what they use.
  • Microtransactions: Sell many items for as little as a dollar – or even only one cent – to drive impulse purchases.
  • Risk Sharing: Waive standard fees or costs if certain metrics aren’t achieved, but receive outsize gains when they are.

There are hundreds of tactics listed on the ten types website, you can also purchase a deck of cards representing the tactics, which are helpful for running a workshop around the framework. If you’re running idea campaigns, you could add the tactics into your inspiration spaces, or as seed ideas to a campaign, to provide food for thought for your community.

One of the best uses of the framework is to help engage the entire business in thinking through innovation possibilities, as Larry Keeley puts it:

“The most innovative organizations rely on systems of individuals and teams working across functions in their organizations. Innovation isn’t the work of only scientists, engineers, or marketers; it’s the work of an entire business and its leadership.”

This article was originally posted on the HYPE Innovation blog.