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Fail fast? No thanks

Jan Pechmann

Managing Director



Sven Wollner

Managing Partner and Director of Next


Fail fast? No thanks

Bridging the Death Valley of Innovation

Inventiveness is alive in German companies. There is huge enthusiasm for technology such as augmented reality, voice, face and emotion recognition, robotics, drones, holograms and more. There’s just one problem with innovations: the majority of them fail. After an initial spell of euphoria, many promising new technologies, services and products vanish into obscurity. After nearly every “Wow!” comes an “Oh no!”.

Missing mission

Many German companies don’t have a clear mission when it comes to innovation. In a recent survey of 300 business decision-makers, 50 percent attributed the failure of innovation efforts to the lack of a strategic framework and an objective. Things are done because they are technically possible. Thus, the actual addressee of the innovation, the user, is overlooked. More than 30 percent of decision-makers see a missing use case as a reason for innovation projects falling flat. These points are the result of a study, "Bridging the Death Valley of Innovation", by WPP’s diffferent and GroupM together with G+J e|MS.

Hype, hype, hooray?

“Just do it”, “be courageous”, “try and fail fast” are all mantras from startups that have spread to the corporate world in recent years. The problem is that many innovation projects are hyped by companies before you even know they are relevant to users. Welcome to the “Death Valley of Innovation”, also known as Gartner’s “Trough of Disillusionment”.

From ideation to implementation – the essential step forward
Companies today want to be (and must be) more innovative than ever. Consequently, whole armies of consultants and trainers are available for ideation exercises, and the sails are set. But what is often lacking in the efficient implementation of ideas is the appropriate experience, as well as suitable processes, tools and all-important user orientation. The challenge is no longer to develop ideas. It is in the implementation.

Technology for real life - successfully activating innovations

Frustration is spreading in innovation Germany. Everyone heads to Silicon Valley and comes back with “design thinking”. But most new products and services still don't really take off. The "Bridging the Death Valley of Innovation" study shows that for 61 percent of people, the most important reason why innovations fail is a lack of ability to assess whether an idea will reach a sufficiently large user base; 59 percent state that innovations are hyped internally without honestly answering the question of customer relevance.

Four levers to bridge the Death Valley of Innovations

Supported by interviews with decision-makers and experts, we have identified four levers to successfully activate and launch technological innovations:

  1. Many innovations lack a clear mission. Be sure as marketeer that you have a solid understanding of your purpose and the “why” behind your idea. EGO represents your contribution to a better world.
  2. The second lever for successful innovation is EMPATHY. The aim is to solve a real problem for users. Many companies make too little effort, work on fake problems or simply construct wrong use cases. EMPATHY is about real understanding of consumer insights.  

  1. ENGINEERING, the third lever, describes the fact that you have to think your offer lovingly through to the end. Unfortunately, this also happens far too rarely. Often, the more an innovation project thrives, the less user orientation results. Be sure of your hero feature and allow yourself to be “perfectly imperfect”. This is ultimately more attractive to consumers.

  1. The last activation lever is ENERGY. A real innovation is more than just another product. It is a movement. First of all, people have to be inspired within a business, then the excitement for a new product or a new service builds externally.  Energy is more about powerful storytelling than simple selling.

The following checklist shows five very concrete attributes for each activation lever, which should help brands innovate for the long term.

In a nutshell:

  • The question of technological feasibility must be extended to include the question of human feasibility.
  • Always remember: Fake problems lead to fake innovations. For many companies, customer centricity is unfortunately still just a platitude, not an attitude.
  • In recent years, many companies have invested massively in the methodological knowledge of the “innovation building kit”. But just because the caretaker is now also a Scrum Master doesn't mean that innovation succeeds automatically.

We would like to encourage you to use this checklist to work on your EGO, EMPATHY, ENGINEERING and ENERGY. And here’s wishing you a safe trip across the bridge over the Death Valley of Innovation.  https://innovation-death-valley.diffferent.de/