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In this series of articles we have 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.

Now, let’s get very specific – what would it take to significantly improve how the Innovation Fuzzy Front End is organized?

Three “hard factors” for designing the optimal FFE

It would be wrong to imagine a one-size-fits-all design of the Fuzzy Front End. Every firm needs to define its “optimal” FFE which depends on its industry characteristics as well as its internal characteristics and external business environment.

And this has been confirmed by our study – we have found that firms operating in various industries design the Fuzzy Front-End differently. Even in the same industry one will find different designs of the early innovation phase.

We have found that there are three external / “hard” factors that firms consider when they design their Fuzzy Front-End.

  • Industry clock speed – The faster the industry ticks, the bigger the “listening ears” and the “ideation platforms” need to be.
  • Disruptive risk – The more the firm’s business is in danger of disruption – by Digital Transformation or by industry convergence – the more powerful the Fuzzy Front End needs to be in order to capitalize on opportunities and to read early warning signs.
  • Innovation strategy – Depending on the firm’s innovation strategy, the FFE needs to be designed accordingly. Some important aspects in this context are: Starting point (Leader vs attacker); Number and nature of search fields; Where to innovate open / closed; Where to explore / exploit; Timing (Pioneer, early adopter, main stream); Principal innovation paradigm (e.g. Market Reader, Need Seeker or Technology Drivers).

Five cultural dimensions in designing the optimal FFE

On top of these “hard” factors, the firm’s innovation culture plays a decisive role in designing and developing the Fuzzy Front-End.

We have found that in designing their FFE, firms are searching for the optimum in five cultural dimensions (think of each dimension to be a continuum between the values indicated):


The Result of Building a High Power Innovation Engine

By blending hard and soft systems design, firms can produce a FFE appropriate to their business / innovation objectives. This provides the right degree of flexibility to tackle emerging trends, speed to act on emerging challenges and effectiveness in creating, selecting and backing the right horses in the innovation race.



REFLECTIVE QUESTION: Are you clear on the “hard” and “soft” factors that influence your firm’s FFE – and have you taken the right steps to set up for innovation effectiveness?

Rob Munro

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