Back End of Innovation: Starting with the not so clear end in mind

Now that everyone seems to be clear (or at least progressing nicely) on how to harness the fuzzy front end of innovation, IRR (never a group to rest on the current state of things) led a new charge last week in La Jolla, CA with a diverse community of corporate innovators at its inaugural Back End of Innovation Conference (BEI).

Having captured the hearts and minds of the best innovation practitioners over the past six years, IIR’s Front End of Innovation (FEI) conference has schooled thousands in state-of-the-art discovery methods — white space opportunity development, co-creation, voice of the customer, and crowdsourcing — with the goal of helping them out-think, out-wit, and out-develop their industry peers. The end result: robust corporate idea-generation systems that have captured an unprecedented number of innovations from multiple internal and external sources.

So now, rather than endlessly mining key stakeholders for the next hidden development gem, the focus is shifting to incorporate the back end of innovation, based on the simple conclusion that finishing things is where the money is…not just starting them.

This adjustment to the innovation equation requires a vastly different set of questions and processes that do, in fact, help avoid paths that lead to nowhere.

  • What metrics are useful to serve as idea filters?
  • How can we build fast, fail fast while at the same time provide the needed direction for forward movement?
  • What metrics should be used to guide which products justify investment and which should be tabled?
  • How can we as innovators learn to think more like venture capitalists? Is it necessary?

For many front-end practitioners, these questions can pose as disruptive, and no doubt can be a bit off-putting; possibly even giving the impression that the “tabula rasa” mindset needed to unearth a breakthrough idea is being messed with. But as Lawrence Lee from PARC reminded the crowd, ”Innovation is a learning activity not a linear activity.“

My takeaway is that as rigor is added to the innovation development framework, make certain that it’s for purposeful discussion and not “yes” or “no” decision-making.

One Comment

  • Lawrence Lee says:

    Thanks Nancy for your post – nice summary! In line with the quote, a learning-based mindset not only helps an organization improve its innovation success rate, but it also leads to an organization that understands and accepts failure – as learning opportunities. I think this is the single most important driver of a successful innovation culture.

    PARC today works with companies in an “open innovation” business model, helping those companies move beyond idea to implementation through technical expertise, R&D services, innovation management practices, and more. Through these experiences, we have learned the importance of open communications around risk, value, and process to align expectations and decisions. I think these discussions are useful for any organization trying to manage innovation. As you stated, it’s important to have rigor in the process so you can foster purposeful discussions.

    You can read more on our blog at:

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