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In this series of articles I’ve built a case that large organizations should now focus their innovation efforts on correctly organizing their Innovation Front End – the place which is inherently ambiguous, but also the region of greatest potential.

The term “Fuzzy Front-End” (FFE) refers to the early innovation phase where “fuzzy” refers to the fact that not all of the activities – in particular the creative process leading to insightful ideas – can be planned and executed as a stringent business process.

Our recent study highlights this is the very thing leading organizations are now doing and we’ll share some of our learning.

How Should Firm’s Organize the FFE?

So, if it’s excellence in the FFE that is key to innovation and business results, how should firms best organize that?

First, we need to say that the FFE is not an isolated process in a system of innovation. It is linked with other business processes such as the strategy process, the resourcing process, the IP Management and Technology Management processes for example.

It’s also certainly the case that the innovation FFE of a company is by no means isolated from the outside world – this is the point about the opportunity. We need to organize our signal gathering “apparatus”, information and insight search, partner identification and selection as well as the internal processes – our absorptive capacities.

Leading firms are trying and testing a lot of approaches such as, amongst others, Open Innovation, Collaborative Innovation on Enterprise 2.0 platforms, ambidextrous structures that separate breakthroughs from incremental “bread & butter” innovations to serendipitous search for breakthrough ideas and many more.

FFE Excellence = Insights + Serendipity + Internal Work + Open Innovation

We have found that there are at least four main components that make up FFE excellence:

  • Insights: Companies are working on developing their innovation signals-gathering infrastructure which gathers the mass of data and technologies and of human-centred needs – the Job to be Done.
  • Serendipity: Rather than only luck, they are creating the situations where they turn the odds in their favour by being in the game of choice and focussing on promising trends and technologies. The recent Boston Consulting Group Report also draws this conclusion – that platform technologies helps provide that focus to innovation efforts and sources of leverage.
  • Open Innovation:  OI is now an established trend for organizing for improved innovation outcomes – where it makes sense. And it makes sense when businesses need to collaborate to gain mutual advantage.  In this era of collaboration, we need to be able to connect individual innovators with experts in an effective way – one that is real time and effective rather than passive or off-line. It could be that your expert is not even on your pay role.
  • Internal Work:  In our article The Problem with the Fuzzy Front End we explored the world of the front-line innovator.  What if… we can help them navigate their complex world with effective tools with an innovation assistant that is a genuine aid to effective innovation and makes a positive shift to front-line behaviour.

In the next article I’ll examine the factors a company needs to consider when designing its Fuzzy Front End.

REFLECTIVE QUESTION: How good are the four parts of FFE excellence compared to peers in your sector?

Please contact me if you would like to create a highly effective approach to your innovation activities.

Rob Munro

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