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Intuition is Not an Innovation Strategy

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

In my 20 years in innovation, I've seen variations on these unsuccessful approaches over and over again:

1. R&D comes up with some nifty new technology, and we shoe-horn it into a new product, having no idea whether anyone will buy it.

2. Sales passes along a bunch of stories and feature suggestions from customers, and then the product development & engineering teams interpret them as best they can, put them into our products, and we hope for the best.

3. We gather our Marketing, Sales and R&D leaders for an "out-of-the-box" brainstorming session and come up with hundreds of ideas, which we don't know what to do with.

4. We conduct an "open innovation tournament," inviting people with any kind of qualifications, or no qualifications at all, to chime in on what our next product should consist of, in hopes of winning a TV.

The Results of Intuitive Innovation

All of the above approaches have a couple of things in common:

1. They're all based on subjective innovation inputs based on the intuition of people who are not qualified to give them. Customers are not product development experts, and Salespeople, R&D engineers, corporate leaders, and the TV-seeking public, though doubtless well-intentioned, are not the customer. Therefore, by definition, they are not the experts on the job the customer is trying to get done with your product or what they need when they're doing that job, let alone which of those needs are not being met currently.

2. They all produce dismal results. About 95% of all new product innovations fail, and the cost of the average successful new product in CPG was a staggering $71 million at last count. If these studies are anywhere close to accurate - and my experience (and probably yours) suggests they're close - you'd literally be better off drawing an idea from a hat and launching it.

Imagine trying to run any other business function like that: Specifying raw materials based on a vote among your office staff. Selecting a new plant location based on Travelocity reviews. Hiring a "creative thinker" to dream up some new ideas for optimizing your vehicle fleet utilization. Making hiring decisions based on a piece of paper and a few conversations with some of your employees (oh, wait...).

You get the idea. We don't tolerate intuitive management in any other area of managing our businesses; why do we allow it in innovation? Perhaps because innovation is too often considered a creative effort which cannot be predicted or controlled, and which requires a person with a special gift - a certain je ne sais quoi - in order to divine the hidden answers.



As with financial analysis or manufacturing or any other highly-refined business function, data and process make innovation better. In fact, consistently successful innovation requires a consistent, scientific approach.

Fortunately, the same Lean Six Sigma engineering process control methods that we use to such success on other processes can be applied to innovation:

  1. DEFINE the market, the customer, the Job-To-Be-Done (JTBD) and the customer needs

  2. MEASURE and quantify the level at which the needs are currently being met

  3. ANALYZE the needs data using statistical tools to identify true opportunities

  4. IMPROVE/design the product or service that will consistently address the unmet customer needs identified

  5. CONTROL the innovation process to continually provide consistent results by instituting process control techniques

I call it Engineerovation™, and it works. It's not as exciting, perhaps, as "Fortune Teller Innovation," but FAR more effective. Contact me to learn how we can turn your innovation from a blind-folded dart game into a smoothly running, well-oiled machine.

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