Among those at the forefront of attempting to foster a structured approach to innovation is Steve Blank, an early Silicon Valley entrepreneur and associate professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford University. He is widely regarded for his work in developing the Customer Development methodology, which later launched the Lean Startup movement popularized by Eric Ries.
Although the concepts of lean have become very popular lately, the core concepts themselves have been around for a long time, being traced as far back as Henry Ford. It's a philosophy that focuses on the idea of preserving value with less work. Within the business world it's a term first coined by John Krafcik in his 1988 article, "Triumph of the Lean Production System," based on his master's thesis at the MIT Sloan School of Management. At its core, it's a 1990's production practice derived from the Toyota Production System that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination.
Later, in the book "Lean Thinking" (Womack and Jones, 1996) expanded on the concept and introduced the philosophy of the five lean principles.
- Identify Customers and Specify Value (Why)
- Identify and Map the Value Stream (What/How)
- Create Flow by Eliminating Waste (Build)
- Respond to Customer Pull (Test/Experiment)
- Pursue Perfection (Revise)
Womack and Jones put the customer at the heart of everything that you need to do as a business to be successful. It provided structured methodology for customer centric empathy whereby you put yourself into the shoes of the end user. The thought is by doing this; you are ensuring that the product or service you produce adds as much value as possible for your customer.
More recently, the lean startup movement has adopted many of the core lean concepts. A philosophy that dictates companies can improve product development cycles by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases as well other approaches to ad-hoc learning. The overarching idea is that if startups invest their time into iteratively building products or services to meet the needs of early customers, they can reduce the market risks and sidestep the need for large amounts of initial project funding and expensive product launches and failures. Potentially solving a key problem most people have experienced at some point in their careers.
To address some of these challenges, in 2011, Steve Blank launched the Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford University. The class teaches founders how to reduce their failure rate through the combination of business model design, customer development and agile development. Around the same time, he was asked by the National Science Foundation to adapt the class to be the curriculum for its Innovation Corps which develops and nurtures a national innovation ecosystem by helping discoveries from fundamental research to become new companies. In 2012 The Harvard Business Review named him one of 12 Masters of Innovation. Citrix has essentially taken this curriculum and applied it to a group of internal and external innovators.
"The Lean LaunchPad is a very effective program for turning 'ideas and great teams' into great businesses and also to help prevent 'good ideas' from turning into really bad businesses, this is a big problem in the enterprise," says Nick O'Connor, Founder & CEO at LaunchPad Accelerate based in Palo Alto.
Driving innovation can be a tricky endeavor, James Patterson, Vice President, Capital One Labs says to, "draw inspiration from outside your company and outside your industry. And encourage risk-taking and highlight failures that ultimately lead to breakthrough ideas. Also, innovation should come from all corners of your organization — make sure you are seeking out diverse perspectives and engaging the curious people in your organization who think about problems bigger than themselves."
Patterson's Capital One Labs team's goal is a simple yet profound one, to make products that have a big impact. It's a mission to reimagining the way 60 million people interact with their money. "That's why we get out of bed in the morning. When our team isn't venturing to build the next generation of financial products, we're partnering with other Capital One teams to tackle their biggest challenges. But no matter the challenge, we're working to bring humanity and simplicity back to banking."