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We Can All Play in the “Innovation Sandbox”

Editor's Note: Take a look at our featured best practice, Design Thinking (225-slide PowerPoint presentation). [NOTE: Our Design Thinking presentation has been trusted by an array of prestigious organizations, including industry leaders such as Apple, MIT, NASA, Ford, Boeing, Fujitsu, Syngenta, Palo Alto Networks, and Mercer, to name just a few.] Design Thinking is [read more]

Also, if you are interested in becoming an expert on Innovation Management, take a look at Flevy's Innovation Management Frameworks offering here. This is a curated collection of best practice frameworks based on the thought leadership of leading consulting firms, academics, and recognized subject matter experts. By learning and applying these concepts, you can you stay ahead of the curve. Full details here.

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Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from Executive Smarts, a collection of 25 concise chapters on management and leadership. For a limited time the e-version is free. The book’s co-authors, William Casey and Wendi Peck, teach and consult on the topics of organizational behavior management, organizational structure design, strategic communication, and strategic planning & execution. This material is copyrighted and reprinted on Flevy with permission.

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innovation_sandbox“Innovation sandbox” is a term coined by the late C.K. Prahalad. The gist: For a truly quantum innovation in either goods or services, (1) set a really high bar for what “good” looks like, (2) identify a small handful of aggressive constraints, and then, within that “sandbox” (3) begin a radical re-examination of your assumptions and self-imposed limits as you develop your breakthrough design. That combination forces you to, as Apple says, “think different.”

Prahalad’s many examples focus on impoverished markets, at the “base of the pyramid”(BOP), where the average person earns a couple of bucks a day. He describes innovations in cars, hotels, communications, and other areas that achieve world-class quality, yet remain affordable to society’s poorest – and they turn a great profit for the entrepreneurs providing them. Now, that’s sustainability! Seth Godin described BOP powerfully, as only he can.

One example Prahalad describes is absolutely world-class cardiac surgery costing $1500 (including profit) that is the equivalent of $45,000 surgery in the US. Oh, and he describes a companion product: innovative health insurance, also profitable, that enables entire villages in India to have access to the surgery, and other medical services, when needed. A high bar, aggressive constraints, and radical re-examination all spur dramatic innovation, again and again.

But Prahalad’s innovation sandbox isn’t just for wealthy entrepreneurs and multi-nationals serving vast third world markets. Actually, anyone can play in the sandbox. We were reminded of this recently in a conversation with our friend, Pamela Giusto-Sorrells, president Pamela’s Products, a producer of popular gluten-free foods.

Pam loves developing products, and she loves a good challenge. One new product she’s feeling good about is her single-serve, gluten-free brownie mix for kids, soon to be released on their Amazon store and retail outlets. Watch for the sandbox in this plucky lady’s own words:

“A lot of other bakers think that gluten-free products have to taste like sawdust, and I literally grew up in a health food industry that believed that. But it’s just plain wrong. I’ve spent a lot of time developing gluten-free recipes that taste really great. So here was my latest challenge: you raise your children on a gluten-free diet, and then you send them off to college and their buddies are doing something else, eating pizza, pretzels, cookies, and whatever else other teenagers eat. Unfortunately, a lot of their snacks will make the gluten-intolerant kid sick.

So my goal was to make something gluten-free that the wheat-eating college kid wants to eat. It’s got to be that good. So, first I asked myself, what does everybody like? Chocolate. What’s a great all-American food? Brownies. People love brownies. They’re a perfect late-night snack. But I had to work within constraints. For cooking, college kids probably have only a microwave; but I figured that they can get water from the bathroom, and they can keep a bottle of oil in their dorm rooms. It’s all about making really great food with limited resources.

So, how do I do it with limited resources? Take our brownie mix, package 100 grams, and mix in two tablespoons of oil and two tablespoons of water. Everybody’s got a spoon. Everybody’s got a bowl or a mug to mix it in. And everybody’s got 60 seconds – one minute to instant gratification. Because it’s so fast and easy, kids show it to other kids and – eh voila! – the wheat-eaters are eating the gluten-free kid’s snacks. Touchdown!”

Other sandboxes: Do you know someone who’s set a high bar, imposed tough constraints, and then radically re-examined assumptions, so they could serve a market that everybody else ignored?

159-slide PowerPoint presentation
This presentation is a compilation of PowerPoint diagrams and templates used to convey 36 different innovation management frameworks, models and methods. (Please note that the materials are meant to be used to supplement your own business or classroom presentations. These slides may not be [read more]

Want to Achieve Excellence in Innovation Management?

Gain the knowledge and develop the expertise to become an expert in Innovation Management. Our frameworks are based on the thought leadership of leading consulting firms, academics, and recognized subject matter experts. Click here for full details.

To be competitive and sustain growth, we need to constantly develop new products, services, processes, technologies, and business models. In other words, we need to constantly innovate.

Ironically, the more we grow, the harder it becomes to innovate. Large organizations tend to be far better executors than they are innovators. To effectively manage the Innovation process, we need to master both the art and science of Innovation. Only then can we leverage Innovation as a Competitive Advantage, instead of viewing Innovation as a potential disruptive threat.

Learn about our Innovation Management Best Practice Frameworks here.

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About William Casey

Wendi Peck and Bill Casey are CEO and President, respectively, of Executive Leadership Group, Inc., a management consultancy serving leaders in both business and government.

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