Why the view from the summit isn’t the finish line: how to execute on your innovative ideas

Published on: February 2018

Written by: James Orr

You and your team have been working tirelessly for weeks on the next idea that will carry the company into the future. It has not been easy. You have conducted hours of customer research to develop deep insights about an unmet customer need and developed a wealth of ideas. You have taken this basket of ideas, refined it, and selected one as the very best. You worked to strengthen this breakthrough idea, and then defined it to share with the world. This is it! You have produced a breakthrough idea – you have summited the innovation mountain! High fives all around. Pop the champagne bottles. Drop the mic. Your work here is done. Right?

I don’t think so.

Similar to summiting an actual mountain, getting to the top of the innovation mountain (coming up with a great idea) is just half the journey. Imagine that you are at the summit of a mountain. It is beautiful, inspiring, and invigorating, but it’s not safe. It’s cold, the air is thin, and a life threatening storm could roll in at any moment. While you want to make sure that you acknowledge the hard work that has successfully brought you to the summit and take time to enjoy your accomplishment (because it is indeed an impressive accomplishment,) you still need to get back to the safety of basecamp to share this incredible moment with your peers. After summiting the innovation mountain, you need to take your potentially game-changing idea back to a space where it can grow and thrive – and you need to implement it in the business.

But how do you do it?

Work with half-baked ideas, not half-baked plans

When you are innovating, truly innovating, you are taking an uncharted path and making a number of assumptions. You have to suspend disbelief and think of truly creative ways to address an unmet need. Once you have created that half-baked idea and arrived at the summit, despite your trek through uncharted territory, you need to follow a clear path to safety where your idea has the chance to blossom.

To do this, you need to identify the most pivotal assumptions on which you have based the success of your innovation. After identifying the most pivotal assumptions, you need to test your assumptions, quickly and affordably, to make sure they are true. (You have probably heard that saying, “Fail fast and cheap.” Here is where it comes into play.) As you test each assumption, you come to a decision point, a “fork in the road.” Each test provides you with new information, allowing you to learn and draw new conclusions, updating or changing assumptions as you go. This new information provides you with an opportunity to make a decision as to whether you should accelerate the pursuit of your idea, redirect your resources or cease the pursuit altogether. Being rigorous and thorough in the development and execution of your plan – one that is not half-baked at all – is essential, and can greatly improve your chances of success.

Isn’t it better to stay at the summit?

If two of our three choices at each decision point mean we do not pursue our idea, isn’t it better to just stay at the summit? The answer is no. The summit is not a safe place. You have already dedicated time, and resources to uncovering these insights and molding your idea into a potential game changer. You owe it to your organization, your team and yourself to see if what you’ve created is really as great as you believe it could be.

Then you might say, “If we don’t launch our idea, haven’t we failed?” Again, I would say, “No.” When you are innovating, not every idea will become the next multibillion dollar solution. Innovating means taking a risk – you are working in a world of unknowns. But if you have carefully created your plan, and tested your assumptions, you have the opportunity to create immense business impact, and at the very least, you will be learning along the way. And learning is what really matters. Learning keeps you from making the same mistakes twice, and provides a foundation for creating new innovations in the future.

While not every view from the summit, every great idea, will result in your organization’s next multibillion dollar innovation, as long as you have captured the learnings from your innovation experience, you have successfully summited Innovation Mountain. Learning is what innovation is really all about – providing yourself and your organization with the opportunity to do better and be better in the future. Innovating is about returning to basecamp to pass on your wisdom and tell your tale, whether you launched your idea or not. With this knowledge in hand you are ready to plan your next adventure.