How This 6 Step Process for Innovation Can Help Your Startup

Near the end of April in Amsterdam, thousands of people from all over the world came together for The Next Web Europe conference. Amidst the incredible global crowd of startups and innovators was Mark Randall, VP of Creativity at Adobe. He shared with us his ground breaking process for innovation at Adobe that’s definitely worth a serious look for any innovator. Grounded in the processes of customer development and experimentation pushed forward by Steve Blank and Eric Ries among others, Mark Randall crafted a solution to the “how do we successfully innovate” problem.

The solution is a red box. According to Mark, in that box for aspiring innovators is “everything they need to successfully test out and innovate a new idea.

The red box, also known as the Adobe Kickbox, includes certain things only bigger organizations could afford, like 40 hours of time to work on their idea and a $1,000 credit card in each box to cover testing costs and remove friction. When met by opposition from internal financiers, Mark said there is no zero risk option for innovation and that friction of seeking approval from superiors created a massive bottleneck for letting innovation thrive throughout the organization. There’s also a “bad ideas notebook” so people can strengthen their idea muscle and not be worried about externalizing an idea because it’s not good enough.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, it was pioneered inside a corporation, and no, Adobe will not give you a $1000 credit card to test your idea.

The best part of it all is what they’re sharing with the world for free: A set of reference cards that guide people through the innovation process with a set of actions through 6 core stages. You can download all of the cards through following the link at the end of the article. For now here’s a quick breakdown of the 6 steps:


1. Inception

At the core of almost all successful innovations is a personal drive to innovate. Innovators face incredible uphill battles and risk… In order to persevere amidst what most would consider crazy, it’s vital to understand and align your personal motivations with the professional. According to Randall, “I don’t care why you want to innovate, but you have to care!” So ask yourself, what’s driving you to innovate?


2. Ideate

Coming up with good ideas takes practice. It’s like a muscle, and like any muscle, it gets weaker through inactivity and stronger through proper exercises. In this step of the process the focus is on generating bad ideas. When people try to come up with good ideas, they end up filtering out potentially game changing ideas. Adobe believes that ideas are the results of input (i.e. talking to potential customers, colleagues, reading news) and insights. Here you should focus on building the habit of externalizing ideas and consuming more inputs.


3. Improve

Good ideas are a great step, but improving them is just as (if not more) important. This stage is focused around improving the idea and seeking out internal feedback. It starts with consolidating your idea down to a simple product statement like, “A product/service description for target customer that key value enabling primary benefits unlike existing alternatives” and then getting feedback from colleagues using the KickBox scorecard below. By the end of this phase, you want to have an idea you’re passionate about and ready to run with, and an understanding of areas to improve.


4. Investigate

Products rarely fail because they can’t be built, it’s because they build the wrong thing. In this stage, the core objective is to test for product viability and engage with potential customers. Like a scientist, we want to test what we believe to see if it’s true. The best ways to do this are through talking to potential customers what they’re already doing and trying to achieve (here’s a customer interviewing Cheat Sheet).


5. Iterate

The key to consistently making data-informed decisions is to continue to find data points through interactions with the customer. Over time, what you want to learn evolves. Early on, you want to see what kind of person has what kind of problem. In much later stages, you may be experimenting on which headlines convert the best. The key is to constantly test what you believe so you can see what works and what doesn’t. One of the easiest formats for doing this is to use a plug and play hypothesis statement. For example, “I believe repeatable action will lead to desired outcome because assumption.” If you’re always iterating about what your testing, you’ll continue to learn and progress most optimally .


6. Infiltrate

Once through the first 5 stages, it’s time to gather the support needed to continue working on the project. Everything up until this point has been designed to help generate ideas, test if they’re good, and build a habit of iteration and experimentation to constantly make them better. Whether you’re trying to get support from your corporate superiors, raise funding as a startup, or get people to join your team - you need to be able to show a compelling opportunity. Here’s their formula:


Kickbox is incredible because it presents a step-by-step process to go from generating ideas to building businesses. Lots of entrepreneurs drown in what to focus on, or end up drowning because they focus on the wrong things. Kickbox solves for that.

Whether you work at a Fortune 500 CEO, or an aspiring entrepreneur entrepreneur who feels overwhelmed by all the things they should prioritize, Kickbox’s methodology should be something you seriously consider. You can download all of the cards here and go through it with your own idea… I look forward to hearing your success stories.


Sam Hysell @samhysell is a Partner at Known Unknowns, a company that helps teams innovate through customer understanding and experimentation. He recently released a course on Udemy called Tactical Customer Interviewing for New Product/Brand Success. He's offering it for free to the Startup Grind community if you use the coupon code startupgrind.


This was written by a SG contributor.  

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