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Innovation methods – the complete overview

If you enter the word “innovation method” into Google, you will find a large number of websites with a wide variety of results. Most, however, focus only on a subset of innovation work. For example, there are overviews with methods for idea generation, specific creativity techniques, methods with which ideas can be evaluated, thinking approaches such as design thinking or frameworks such as TRIZ. In addition, there are also methods for the implementation of ideas such as the creation of prototypes or methods that support the creation of a culture of innovation. In this article, I would like to bring all these perspectives together to help you choose the appropriate method.

What is an innovation method?

Let’s first define the term. Important: An innovation method is not a creativity technique. Of course, a creativity method can also be a creativity method, but there are also many work steps in the innovation process that have as much to do with creativity as the binomial formulas in mathematics have to do with sports.

First of all, an innovation method is any methodical procedure that helps to achieve the set goal within the framework of the innovation process. Here, methodical means that the execution can be repeated and then lead to success again in a similar situation. I used an even more concrete definition in one of my last lectures and brought you the slide once:

What is a method?

Why do you need innovation methods?

One of the most common questions from participants in our Innovation Coach training is “What do I do when…” followed by one of the typical obstacles to innovation. Barriers to innovation are situations that stop or slow down progress in the innovation project. Specific barriers to innovation include:

  • inhibited team members
  • lack of reference to reality
  • too early evaluation of ideas
  • a disruptive group clown in the team
  • u.v.a.

In these situations, methodical approaches help to overcome the obstacle to innovation and take the next step.

Example: I have a disruptive group clown on the team. This can be a pretty big barrier to innovation because this person takes every opportunity to ridicule the goal and the approach, ensuring that the group’s focus is not on the task at hand. Here all methods that use an open verbal exchange do not work , because the person will use this for his appearance. So in this situation, I would use more writing-based methods such as Brainwriting Pool or Silent Writing Talk (for brainstorming) or Visual Quick Assessment (for evaluating ideas). By the way, it is also exciting to see how the person’s attitude changes when Lightless Creativity is in use, working with the team in a completely dark room. So methods help to be able to continue working in this situation and to achieve results.

It therefore helps to fill one’s method suitcase in order to have the right answer for the most diverse obstacles to innovation. By the way, you can find more than 800 methods for different work situations here in the Innovation Wiki after (free) registration.

How many innovation methods are there?

In 2015, we in the verrocchio team set ourselves the somewhat crazy task of finding all the methods used by innovation professionals around the world. Our goal was to describe them, test them in customer projects and categorize them. In fact, we found more than 700 methods during this project, 555 of which made it into The Big Handbook of Innovation . Do you need to know and be able to do all these methods? No, certainly not. However, we have also found that even professional innovation managers often know no more than 5 methods and actually use even fewer of them. How is it with you? How big is your own method buffet?

Is there a best innovation method?

We often hear this question from participants and the answer is always “no” , because the success of methods always depends on the context. From the work phase, the participants, the group size, the strategic goal, the culture and much more. There are a few ideas about this in the next section. Of course, for specific situations, there are methods that work better than others – here it is then necessary to find out the best method. By the way, the filters that we have built into the Pro version of the Innovation Wiki help with the selection.

When people sell a method as the “best innovation method,” I’m always a little wary. Reasons are often:

  • they have not bothered to research and test other methods
  • they have developed the method themselves or/and earn money from selling the method

So look carefully when a method is recommended to you.

Of course, we also have method favorites, these include:

How do I choose the right innovation method?

Choosing the right method depends on many different factors, here are some of them:

  • What is the innovation goal?
    Goals can be, for example: Improving an existing product or service, opening up new markets, solving a specific problem, strengthening the company’s culture of innovation, etc.
  • What resources do I have available?
    Some methods require resources in the form of special rooms, others are very time-consuming, and in some cases I also need technology and tools, e.g. for the production of prototypes. Time also plays a role. While I schedule a little more time for Design Thinking projects, for example, Design Sprints can be implemented much faster.
  • What are the competencies of those involved?
    What are the capabilities of the team? What are the experiences and interests? The method should be chosen in such a way that it does not overburden the participants, but also does not underburden them.
  • What are the competencies of the facilitator?
    An important point is also the experience and training of the moderator. Have you moderated similar projects before or is this a new start?
  • How much time is available?
    Some methods require more time, others less. People often underestimate the time it takes to use a method in a workshop context.
  • What are the barriers to innovation?
    What are typical stumbling blocks for the topic? What hurdles will there be in the course of the project and how can you then proceed methodically? These are questions you should ask yourself beforehand.
  • What is the work culture like? What is the risk tolerance?
    How high do you estimate the risk associated with the implementation of the innovation project. The higher your risk tolerance, the more likely you are to use more experimental and unconventional methods

Use the verrocchio innovation method finder

We have developed a comprehensive innovation method finder here at Innovation Wiki, here you can search for example by method name or by specific innovation phases. Barriers to innovation are also an important criterion in selecting the right methde. If you are not yet registered and can access the content, register here for free.

Innovation methods vs agile methods

In recent years, a large agile movement has developed in companies, which has many overlaps with the topic of innovation in terms of content. Iterative working, customer centricity, and empathy are just a few of the themes that play a role in both approaches. In this respect, many methods also work in both innovative and agile contexts. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to take a detailed look at the differences, also to ensure that both approaches are properly taken into account in projects:

First difference: focus

The use of innovation methods is primarily about developing new ideas, products, services or business models. It’s about gaining competitive advantage and capturing the market. They aim to find creative solutions to problems and create value for customers and businesses. Innovation methods are particularly helpful in addressing unstructured problems. Examples of innovation methods are Design Thinking or Lean Startup.

Agile methods, on the other hand, focus on the efficient and flexible development and implementation of projects. They rely on iterative processes, continuous improvement and rapid adaptation to change. Sometimes it’s about innovation, but often it’s about improving existing processes and routine tasks. Agile methods are particularly widespread in the field of software development, but can also be used in other industries. They are particularly useful when it comes to responding to unforeseen changes and fostering collaboration within a team.Examples of agile methods are Scrum or Kanban.

Second difference: procedure

Innovation methods rely heavily on creativity, empathy and experimentation. They often use interdisciplinary teams and encourage collaboration between different functions and departments to develop innovative solutions.

Agile methods emphasize flexibility, speed, and adaptability. They use iterative processes in which a project is broken down into small, manageable parts that are worked through in short cycles (sprints). Feedback and reflection play a central role in the continuous improvement of the project.

In practice, innovation methods and agile methods can be combined to both develop innovative solutions and implement them efficiently and flexibly. I always recommend that our clients use a combination of methods to achieve their innovation and development goals. The division into two “method camps” is not helpful and also contradicts both the principles of innovation and agility.

Handwritten by Christian Buchholz