The Autodesk Innovation Workshop is a modular toolkit to help innovators bring their ideas to life. We use these tools at Autodesk and want to share them with the world. Participants develop great ideas, gather data to validate their ideas and develop pitches to gain support for on-going development of their ideas. As much as the Innovation Workshop is about developing great ideas, it is also about developing confidence to challenge the status quo and drive positive cultural change.
“Innovation is something new that creates a positive impact on society. Innovation and invention often get conflated. Invention is about coming up with an idea, innovation is about creating an idea.” — Jon Pittman, VP of Corporate Strategy
Or, in the words of Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble in The Other Side of Innovation,
Innovation = Ideas + Execution
Ideas are cheap and plentiful. Although it may seem like it at times, making them real is not magic. With a little time and a handful of tools, good ideas can be separated from bad. They can quickly become great through an iterative process that engages customers and stakeholders in honest feedback.
The basis for a great innovation is a thorough understanding of the problem space. As engineers, designers, and artists, we need to avoid the technology trap. We work with technology all day long, and it is easy to see technology as the problem and the solution. Taking a wider view and exploring the full space leads to greater understanding and potential insights. PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental) helps to facilitate this investigation and discussion.
With the foundation set, participants jump into the LUMIAMI questioning framework and Innovation Prioritizer from the Innovation Genome. We take particular interest in the Innovation Target to make sure the problem being solved will have significant impact. Take the following example:
While increasing sales by 10% over three years may be a worthy goal, it is going to be difficult to develop and sell innovative ideas around this target. It’s simply too easy to continue with business as usual, potentially working a little harder as the main solution.
What we need is something like the second idea of increasing sales by 200% in six months. This is going to be easier to generate breakthrough ideas around, and it will do a much better job of catching the imagination and attention of potential supporters. This is critical to helping an idea survive the innovation antibodies present in most organizations.
Innovation antibodies exist for a good reason. They want to keep the organization healthy and focused on doing what it does best. They also help to test ideas and make them strong enough to survive in what may be a challenging environment. Innovation Workshop attendees learn how to workaround the antibodies and coexist in harmony.
Armed with a good idea, we can now apply Autodesk’s version of the Lean Canvas to help innovators work through the solution space. Like participants fully explore the problem space with PESTLE, this tool is designed to help innovators quickly explore the full space of the solution.
Just like a problem is not purely technological, the solution needs to consider certain aspects of the business that may not be top of mind for the innovator but are certainly very important to potential supporters. While most of this should be straightforward to figure out, there are things that will be risky or unknown. Innovators need to be honest about noting these things so that they may find answers in their on-going idea development.
The Lean Canvas also serves as a gate. Does the idea still seem like a good one when looked at through these different lenses? It’s okay if it doesn’t. Lots of ideas have been generated, and this is all in the spirit of learning. Some say it’s okay to fail, and it is as long as you’re learning something. At Autodesk, we prefer to stay on the positive side and always be learning. This also helps keep stakeholders who are not comfortable with failure from getting worried and sending in more innovation antibodies.
To really test the idea, we need to take it out in the world and try to sell it. This is counter-intuitive to a lot of innovators and somewhat scary. Wouldn’t it be easier to just build the idea so that it sells itself? Honestly, no. And you’ll still have to sell it. Go try and sell the idea before you spend a lot of time, money, and/or effort on a fancy prototype. If you’re lucky, someone will actually pay for it so you can build your idea in comfort.
Selling starts with listening. Listen to who your customer is and what are the real problems they are having. Do this before you tell them the details of your solution so that you are not leading them to agree with your hypothesis. This is a trial sale to validate if your idea is as great as you think it is. There is no value in bullying or convincing your prospect that they need your idea. Take what you learned and adjust your idea, refine your hypothesis, and prototype. If it’s a difficult sale, you may need to move back through some of the previous steps or move on to another idea.
If your idea is working out so far, you now need to think about how much and how far you can go alone. This is not acting like a hermit and hiding your idea – it’s you working with the resources you and your collaborators have. Asking for help is fine, but it’s important to remember that investors come with their own expectations and requirements. This can be a trade off or compromise with your vision as others inject their opinions on the solution and concerns about the potential success.
In many cases the point will come when you need more support. This could be money, time, and/or people for your team. One of the best ways to encourage the ongoing success of your idea is to ask for something that is easy to say yes to. It is easier for a senior manager to agree to spend one hour per month with you working around roadblocks than it is to give you one million dollars. If you’re asking for a big pot of money, make sure you have the data to support that.
That ask data comes from the data you’ve been gathering in talking with stakeholders and customers. You’ve been iterating on your idea and the data that supports it, de-risking it and working out the unknowns. As you present to management, make sure to share what you’ve learned, not just what you want to accomplish. When you ask for support, put it in the context of continued learning towards achieving the realization of your idea. This will help you show that you are not just passionate but also deeply knowledgeable in the subject area.
This process of developing great ideas, gathering data to validate them, and pitching to management for support is something that everyone can do and be successful in. As they do it, they will find that they are learning things not only about their customers and industries but about themselves. This process develops leadership skills that lead to lasting and meaningful culture change where individuals confidently make their businesses stronger.