Anxiety Hits Middle Managers the Hardest

“What are the metrics?”

We get this question all the time from nervous managers, directors, and VPs who are struggling with the philosophical underpinnings of front-end innovation. They are eager to launch an innovation program, but want to be able to foresee the outcome before embarking on a journey of discovery.

This is a different game than B-school thinking from the Industrial age, and to prosper here you must be comfortable with some uncertainties on the outset. Hard metrics cannot be realistically assigned until the front-end work has been completed. Not everything in business or life is a machine of predictability, an algorithm where you input data, access risks, and output gain.

This is the good news. Front-End Innovation is a different mindset, one of exploration and possibility, that then transforms the potential into actual business strategies, channel plans, and something around which metrics can measure at the end of the cycle.

Don’t worry. “The metrics” will naturally present themselves as part of the process, but we don’t know many things right out of the gate. Let’s be real, mature, and not acting from a fear-based mindset of perfection before we do empathy work in the field or break open a disruption that may change the course of the industry. You don’t want to tie the runner before the race.

The following list offers a good representative sample of why adaptive rather than prescribed intelligence need be applied at stage:

  • How will the empathy inform the project’s starting objectives?
  • What do your customers really desire, even without being able to articulate it?
  • What is the actual problem for which we are solving and will generate rationing possible solutions?
  • How incremental and short-term or disruptive and game changing will the concepts be? Or will a portfolio be a mix of all of these stages?
  • What will be the costs of the portfolio of innovations, marketing, and the projected return?

You know if you are asking these types of questions that you are at this precipice, this territory that is not yet mapped for your company, one with vast potential market headroom.

Innovations create new value by listening to the market, not solving a business problem. Metrics are drafted to manage business problems. This stage follows.

“So, may we settle upon something? I mean, we are going to invest a lot of money. What will be the return?”

Can deep learning be the sole metric? Until the Co-creation phase is complete and we can rough out business cases on the concepts that consumers or customers deem most viable?

Warning: Assigning metrics too early in the front end of innovation process would be kill the spirit of invention and deafen the Empathy stage.