Ensuring Desirability, Feasibility and Viability in Innovation
Updated: Mar 29
The words innovation and creativity are often used interchangeably.
Are innovation and creativity two different things? If so, what is the difference? Should we be bothered about the difference?
The dictionary definition of creativity (taken from thesaurus.com) is below.
"Creativity: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination"
On the other hand, ISO 56000 standard very clearly defines innovation as an outcome
"Innovation is a new or changed entity, realizing or redistributing value."
It includes a note clarifying this further.
Note 3 to entry: The word “innovation” sometimes refers to activities or processes resulting in or aiming for, innovation. When “innovation” is used in this sense, it should always be used with some form of a qualifier, e.g. “innovation activities”. (ISO 56000 standard)
Tim Brown at Ideo made the framework of desirability, feasibility and viability popular as part of the design thinking approach to innovation. His theory was that a human-centred approach that integrates the needs of people, the technological possibilities and the requirements of the business would result in innovation.
The design thinking approach proposed by Tim Brown and Ideo is so popular that plenty of leaders don't even recognize that design thinking is one of the tools for innovation. The fact is that there are many equally great tools for innovation; Jobs to Be Done framework developed by Tony Ulwick, Business model canvas developed by Osterwalder, Lean Startup pioneered by Eric Ries & Steve Blank, Where to Play by Sharon Tal and Marc Gruber, are just a few of them.
However, the principles of innovation remain the same; innovation is an outcome; it's a new or changed identity that realizes or redistributes value. This implies that every innovation is at the intersection of desirability, feasibility and viability.
Is everyone innovating with these principles in mind? The answer is possibly a big no!
Take the case of Tata Nano, the car that was supposed to shake up the auto industry. Tata motors demonstrated that it was feasible to produce a car at that low price point, at a fairly consistent quality and reliability level. Unfortunately, there was no convergence of desirability, feasibility and viability. What was feasible was not the thing customers desired.
It is interesting to note that many other automakers had already reached this conclusion, without doing the expensive experiment.
A more recent example is Alexa from Amazon. It is now reported that the business is found to be unviable. As a device the Echo series is quite popular, people like and utilize it quite extensively. Technologically, the product does everything it was intended to. But it has turned out that Amazon's estimation of its viability was based on it enabling the purchase of other things from Amazon web stores.
A third example is from the energy space. For decades now, we have been sold great stories about wind power. Everyone desires pollution-free energy from naturally occurring wind. We also know that when power is so generated it is viable. Except that technologically it doesn't seem to be feasible to produce enough power from wind reliably. At least not yet.
Many innovation projects and startups are stuck with the challenge of ensuring desirability, feasibility and viability. It is not that they are completely ignoring the three. Most often, organizations end up addressing them sequentially one at a time or miss some part of the DFV framework!
When should the focus on the 3 elements start? We believe it should start very early. Desirability, feasibility and viability have multiple layers of details and they need to be addressed at different points of time in the innovation process.
Let's begin with the desirability
The pains of the customer are the most likely aspect of desirability that triggers ideation. However, a good ideation process must develop the original idea further and refine it by understanding the jobs to be done, the pains involved and the customer gains.
These are used for developing hypotheses and carrying out experiments to get much deeper insights into the customer needs (the real problem) and the size of the problem. These are done using generative research and evaluative experiments.
Once this phase is over, we continue evaluating desirability in multiple phases iteratively, with prototypes, with a minimum marketable product and with a scalable product.
Desirability evaluation is done with a test group, a pilot/pioneer group and then a larger group. You also carry out desirability evaluation in the lab stage, in a controlled environment and actual environment.
In an ideal innovation process, desirability evaluation starts in the ideation phase and ends with the commercialization phase. You might have pivoted multiple times during this journey.
Feasibility evaluation is a constant exercise with every iteration. A key question for innovators is what comes first, feasibility or desirability. In our opinion, desirability is the most critical; there is no point in developing a feasible solution that sacrifices desirability.
Feasibility evaluation is generally considered to include technology and manufacturing feasibility, but it needs to go beyond that.
We suggest that one of the first exercises in every innovation project is to identify the "project killers". Killing the project killers is what feasibility evaluation is about. At every stage of the innovation project and after every pivot, the "project killers" need to be identified and the feasibility of killing them evaluated.
Viability validation is not just about growth or revenue, but it is about the business model. The first version of the business model must be ready once the idea is selected for further action. As Steve Blank says, every innovation is a hypothesis about the business model and they need to be proven. If the business model at the idea stage is already proven and needs no further validation, you are actually not having an innovation, but are merely a fast follower or even a late entrant.
Different aspects of the business model viability are evaluated in different stages of the innovation engagement. The value proposition is evaluated in the development stage and validation stages. In the later stages of the validation stage and the commercialization stages, the key activities, resources, channel and customer relationship as well as partner viability are validated.
Validating desirability, feasibility and viability systematically and in the right stage is one of the key requirements of the innovation effort. We have developed a framework incorporating all these elements, we call it the 9 stages of innovation. Every stage calls out the desirability, feasibility and viability requirements appropriate for the stage.
The web app 9 Stages of Innovation, provides a quick assessment of your innovation. It's free and the easy-to-answer questions can be completed in 5 to 7 minutes. I can guarantee that 5 minutes spent on the assessment will be worth your time.
We are of course happy to have a detailed discussion with you on the topic of innovation and how you could improve our process.
Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or book a free 60-minute consultation using the link https://bit.ly/3eLCLGz
Krishnan is a leading innovation consultant and focuses on helping people and organizations innovate and build capabilities for innovation. He brings over 25 years of experience in the industry and consulting. You can reach him by phone / WhatsApp: +919791033967 or email: email@example.com
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