Henry Ford knew this very well back in the 1930s: great innovation begins with the end in mind.
Innovation is about implementing new ideas for simple solutions in order to generate value for customers (learn more here). Keeping the end in mind is key for innovation because it forces you to think how to create value. It’s all about thinking the perfect solution, also known as Ideal Final Result (IFR). The IFR is the description of the best possible solution for a problem without caring about resources or constraints. Idealization is the mental process that imagines that IFR and concentrates in finding real value and not in eliminating problems or effects. Let’s see the lawn mower example:
If we think about a lawn mower, it is easy to find room for improvement: they are noisy, they use fuel, they have potentially dangerous blades, they need maintenance. We could work hard to improve all these things to create a better product. That’s the classic (not IFR) approach which focuses in problems and effects.
However, using idealization, we must concentrate in customer value. What does the customer want? A lawn mower? No. People don’t buy lawn mowers, they buy perfect grass. The Ideal Final Result is beautiful and splendid grass, no matter how you get it. Artificial grass, real grass that does not grow or selling your backyard are solutions that fit perfectly well here. You have probably noticed that we are not talking about lawn mowers anymore. That’s really the point of using IFR: it opens your mind to a broader range of ideas.
The use of idealization / IFR starts with perfection and looks for ways to eliminate barriers (real or perceived) that prevent us from reaching that ideal state. It is like a kids maze game: we start from the prize and move backwards.
Warning! The search of an Ideal Final Result does not mean that you have to ignore your customer’s opinions and preferences. It’s just the opposite: your knowledge about the customer must be so deep that you can clearly differentiate creating value (what the customer really wants) from just solving problems.
It is almost impossible to overemphasize the effect of environment in innovation. Yes, some people have that special thing that makes them incredibly creative, but even the most talented team will fail if it is surrounded by risk aversion and fear to failure. The good news is that the opposite is also true, everybody has creative potential if the environment is favorable.
There are 3 main environmental states:
- Unfavorable environment: Only results matter. The motto is “if you fail, you’re fired”.
- Neutral environment: Failure is accepted. The motto is “it’s okay to make mistakes”.
- Favorable environment: Trial and error to maximize learning. The motto is “use all available opportunities to learn”