Surviving the Valley of Dead Ideas

There’s no more time or money to waste on “innovation” that leads to nothing—call in the experts to help your team score early wins.
Joan Moore and Ryan Menefee

After 50 years of delivering products to market, we at frog have seen an evolution in what our clients are asking for. They want to understand who their customers and end-users are to better empathize with them. They want to know what products, services and experiences they can create to help grow their business and fend off the competition. And most importantly, they want to know how to bring these ideas to life.

The fact is, most companies have no shortage of good ideas. Innovation teams regularly share spreadsheets with us containing hundreds of excellent ideas for disruptive products, services and experiences. So why don’t these ideas make it off the page, despite the imperative for companies to be more “innovative”? These ideas don’t go anywhere because innovation, while imperative, is also at odds with how companies operate. New ideas tend to unleash the corporate immune system, which neuters or kills disruptive ideas on contact.

In our latest insight report, From Innovation to Impact, we discuss six strategies for helping your company get tangible products to market that create real value for your customers. Below, we elaborate on the challenges that await your team as they try to move from ideation to execution—what we call the Valley of Dead Ideas—and outline the qualities of the battle-ready team you must assemble for your products to see the light of day.

 

The Challenge: Traversing the Valley of Dead Ideas

Anyone working for a legacy organization knows there’s a vast valley to cross between new idea generation and actual development and execution. On paper, you think you’ve done everything right: you’ve assembled the right team, cobbled together the budget and put in the work. Yet this may not be enough to traverse the Valley of Dead Ideas, which is filled with obstacles.

The Valley of Dead Ideas is where teams face the realities of getting executive buy-in and funding to move the idea forward to execution. Some companies invest in “turnkey” fixes that they hope will be enough to deliver innovation. This can involve training their teams in design thinking or hiring a chief design officer. Some set up a corporate innovation lab—there are at least 70 such labs in major companies in the US, and certainly more are in the early development stages. Others invest on the execution side, adopting an agile development methodology.

But these measures are not enough. Even teams that employ all of these strategies still face the challenges that all innovative ideas encounter. There are business unit leaders who kill off ideas that require experimenting with a departure from the core, and finance teams that kill off ideas that can’t show desirable gross margins quickly enough. Not to mention the corporate immune system that locks up your idea in a whirlpool of endless socialization and approval processes, halting momentum and making way for a more nimble company to get your idea to market first.

In addition to a corporation’s own immune system, there are also untrustworthy “guides” hoping to cash in on your team’s motivation to bring new ideas to life. Seemingly low-cost system integrators may promise to meet your goals, but need all the requirements defined up front before committing to a budget. Given that their own business model is to sell your company hours (and not outcomes), they’re just as likely to turn your idea into a platform to sell the CEO on a merger, than to help you deliver your product to market. And huge technology conglomerates who promise that a magic technology like blockchain will solve all your problems for a low up-front service fee can end up charging expensive long-term licensing fees to continue using their proprietary platform. By 2025, companies globally will spend nearly $600B on these system integrators. But how many of those dollars will translate into products in market for their clients?

Even the most prepared teams can be overwhelmed by these obstacles—they fail to meet key internal deadlines, they lose funding, and eventually lose the traction needed to launch. Frustrated organizations cut their losses by cutting the idea, the team, the innovation lab, or even the chief design officer, leaving the innovation to die.

Innovation is ultimately survival of the fittest; 80 percent of new products fail to launch, and only 20 percent of startups manage to return a dollar of profit to their investors. But when innovation is an imperative, those odds for survival are unacceptable. How do you improve your company’s odds of bringing your innovative idea to life?

 

Bring in a Battle-Ready Team

So how do you get through the valley? The answer is to hand-select your battle-ready team, and provide all the resources and support from the top to enable them to traverse and, ideally, construct their own bridge that avoids the valley entirely.

What is a “battle-ready” team? It’s a highly effective and collaborative team that moves at venture speed using an agile method or design sprints. It’s the special forces team that you call whenever you need a job done, and done effectively.

The battle-ready team requires an innovative product or idea that drives and sustains engagement with targeted users, and creates emotion and belief that inspires the team and rallies the organization to support—not hinder—their journey.

This powerful belief has to be manifested in the delivery team that consists of:

  • Designers who can collaborate with development quickly and effectively
  • A strong decision maker and leader that has helped establish a clear vision and roadmap with principles
  • Savvy business leads who have influence and can bridge relationships across the organization to get buy-in on the product vision
  • Team members experienced in strategy, product, tech, design and delivery that can think holistically through a product and user experience

Check list for success: What makes an ideal battle-ready team:

  • Has launched several products to market
  • Has several wins and failures under their belt, and experienced projects that have failed or missed deadlines so they know what to watch out for
  • Knows what it takes to sustain long term customer engagement
  • Understands how to socialize and get executive buy-in for funding
  • Knows how to work with technology vendors and partners, and is a build/buy/partner expert
  • Understands that customer experience is crucial to success
  • Never says no, and has a passion and tenacity to deliver—no matter what the constraints of the challenge.
  • Doesn’t need all the requirements detailed out for them at nauseum

This nimble team has to know all the obstacles they’ll face in the Valley of Dead Ideas and how to avoid and defend against them. They are equipped to make the right decisions—and make them quickly.

Some leaders will be able to assemble their battle-ready team entirely from within their own ranks by identifying someone who has led a team through the valley before. However, most leaders benefit from the introduction of an outside partner like frog to help inspire their own team members and navigate through the valley. frog partners with leaders across industries and around the world to help teams turn their visionary ideas into realized products, services and experiences. We do this by working closely with leaders and their teams to show them new ways of working, help them prepare for high-stakes executive decision meetings, and prove out concepts to gain broad support for new innovation.

When the startup Heatworks came to us with a proprietary technology that could heat water on demand, we served as the battle-ready team to get the product to market fast. By working in close collaboration with the team across every customer touchpoint—from brand and product strategy to integrated hardware and software design—we were able to launch a completely new internet-connected, tankless, electric water heater and mobile application within nine months.

Our battle-ready teams bring this Venture Design approach to large organization as well. Together with Pfizer Consumer Health, we launched the Design Collaborative to create new health and wellness solutions for consumers in the areas of improved sleep, stress management, energy, aging and nutrition. By leveraging design methodologies for rapid, scalable creation of new product ecosystems, services and businesses, we were able to help PCH bring new products and services to market that empower people to take health and wellness into their own hands.

Innovation remains a corporate imperative—as it should, because disruptors remain an existential threat to legacy companies in every industry. Companies who have tried to deliver innovative products and services to market know the difficulty of traversing the Valley of Dead Ideas from innovation to execution. At frog, we don’t believe that changing your company from the ground up is required to get new ideas to market. Instead, focus on assembling your battle-ready team—whether pulled from internal resources or augmented with battle-tested partners like you find at frog—who can help you deliver not just ideas, but real impact through business outcomes.

For more on creating impact over innovation, download the full report here.

For more on creating impact over innovation, download the full report here.
Author
Jona Moore
Global VP of Technology, frog

Jona is the Global VP of Technology at frog. Jona brings over 18 years of experience in bringing new innovation, user experiences and products to life for many large Fortune 500 clients. With a passion for managing large complex cross-functional (UX, technology, product, business strategy) teams to collaboratively meet their goals, Jona has successfully led many large organizations through transformational changes while influencing cultural change in their businesses.

Ryan Menefee
Strategy Director, frog Austin

Ryan is a Strategy Director based in Austin. He has over 10 years of experience helping companies across industries to frame up problems, identify the questions that need to be answered, and then find those answers through qualitative and quantitative means. He uses this data to craft a story that builds organizational support for new products, services, and experiences that generate value for both the customer and the company.