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Why it’s stupid to start with an idea

Innovation starts with problem solving and is about generating new ideas. But true ‘design thinking innovation’ is more than just problem solving, it is about finding the right problems to solve and being about to realise the best outcomes for that problem. The reason why it is so important to go through the practice of design thinking (or what we call strategic innovation) is because you can generate a whole range of ideas, concepts and solutions to that problem.

In many companies it is usually an individual (rarely a team) who comes up with the brilliant next idea and tells everyone else about it. But why is it stupid to start with this idea and then lead it through to ‘innovation’? Well here are three reasons:

  1. 1.   An idea makes you blind.

    Once you got your idea you will fall in love with it. That’s a great feeling. But love makes blind, unfortunately. The phenomenon of selective perception will make you see only the positive points of the idea. You will only listen to people who are supporting you. And in trying to realise the idea you will run in 80 percent of the cases into a hard wall, which will wake you up. Not having an alternative available to realise your personal challenge.

  2. 2.   It’s almost impossible to convince others (when you’re not the boss).

    What happens when you tell your idea to someone else? Their reaction starts often with a ‘but……….’. Others within your organisation will start criticising your idea the moment it is told to them. The most important reason is that the idea is not theirs. A solution is getting ideas together in a team setting so the ownership of the idea is shared. You can’t innovate alone. A idea needs a lot of fathers and mothers to survive.

  3. 3.   Only one of seven ideas is successful. 

    A number of studies on innovation (Robert G. Cooper, 2011) shows that for every seven new ideas, about 4 enter development, 1.5 are launched and only 1 succeeds. These are very poor odds. So what do you do when your boss, the vice-president marketing or the innovation board stops your new product idea? Do you have any alternatives available to realise your business challenge? So never bet on one horse. That’s the message.

So what do we recommend?

We believe it is better to actively go and seek out these customer problems that you can satisfy. We like to call them customer needs. It is more effective to drive innovation being in the field, using your expert intuition to generate novel ideas – WITH REAL PEOPLE. So do not just start with an idea. Start with a drive and a want to generate the RIGHT idea. To do that you need to gain a deeper understanding of the people you want to create value for and empathise with them.

So, how could you start?


Never start a challenge unprepared. As good preparation not only increases the chances of success but it also creates priorities, direction and the will to succeed. That’s why it is essential to start with a clear and concrete assignment. This forces the top management, from the start, to be concrete about which criteria new concepts must meet. This forms the guidelines for you and your team when you are underway. You can formulate the assignment with the help of the following six questions:

  1. Why?  (Why do we want to innovate);

  2. Who?  (Who is the target group);

  3. Where?  (For which distribution channels, countries, regions or continents);

  4. What?  (Evolutionary or revolutionary; products, services and/or business models);

  5. When? (Intended year of introduction);

  6. Which? (Which criteria the new concepts should meet);


Adapted from Gijs van Wulfen at Fourth


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