Julia Kirby: Hi I'm Julia Kirby with Harvard Business Review. In the studio today, we have Scott Anthony. He's managing partner at InnoSight, the innovation consultancy. He's got a new book. It's called the First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas into the Market. Scott, thanks for being here today.
Scott Anthony: Thanks for having me, Julia.
Julia Kirby: So all managers these days know that innovation is the imperative, and yet it feels like it's such an unnatural act still. Companies really haven't figured out how to do it well. You're focusing on a particular point in the process that you think is really the sticking point that a lot of people can't get past. Can you explain that?
Scott Anthony: Absolutely. So the title of the book says it all -- the first mile. And the first mile for an idea is when you take that precious step -- when you go from something on paper and begin to turn it into reality. And this is a very fragile moment for an idea. Because something that looks really good on paper often isn't good, and you just don't know exactly how. So what I try to suggest in the book is a way to be structured enough about how you approach the strategic uncertainty that always characterizes a new idea.
Julia Kirby: So someone with a great idea that they want to get out into the market, they have to take a lot of steps here and do them right. You have this great mnemonic, it's DEFT. They need to document the idea that they have in mind. They have to then evaluate the uncertainties that are involved in that. They need to focus on the key uncertainties, and then test various solution approaches. I love that really central role that uncertainties play in that. Can you bring that to life for us a little bit? Give us an example of how some team dealt with uncertainties and came to terms with them.
Scott Anthony: So the basic idea behind the process -- before I give the example -- is to say, let's try to use the scientific method to try to knock off that strategic uncertainty. Because here's the reality. Every idea is partially right and partially wrong. The problem is, you don't know what part is right and what part is wrong. So you want to learn as quickly as you can and begin to course correct towards success.
So one example that's described in the book is a program that Medtronic launched called Healthy Heart for All. They identified a very clear problem worth working on. More heart disease in India than any country in the world, yet the pacemaker product that is the bread and butter of Medtronic had relatively low sales.
India is an out-of-pocket pay market. It’s a $1,000 product. Many people couldn't afford it. Many people didn't even know they needed it. How do you crack that? They came up with an idea. But then you’ve got to figure out how you take that idea and turn it into reality. It starts by mapping out comprehensively, making sure that you spell out all the things that have to happen in order for the idea to come to life. This was complicated. You had to diagnose patients, you had to raise awareness among patients, you had to bring them to hospitals. And then the twist that Medtronic had was the world's first financing program for an implantable medical device.
So you’ve got that all spelled out. You then begin to pick it apart. You evaluated it. You say, Ok, a couple of the key risks are -- Can we really find patients? Can we effectively go and find the proverbial needle in the haystack? Is the loan program, is the financing program, is it going to work? You then go and focus on those key assumptions and design experiment, design tests so you can quickly learn around them.
In Medtronic's case, they ended up running pilot in three hospitals in India, a small-scale version of the business so they could figure out what worked and what didn't. As is always the case, as they executed those pilots, the idea changed.
Things that looked good on paper, spreadsheets that all worked in theory, didn't turn out quite to work in reality. Today, the program is booming. It spread all throughout India and now it's the cornerstone of many of Medtronic's efforts in emerging markets. Because Medtronic was very smart about how it managed the uncertainty behind that idea.
Julia Kirby: You mentioned the scientific method. It's sort of fundamental to the way that you approach this. You also have something called the Experiment Cookbook. Is that part of that scientific method?
Scott Anthony: Absolutely. The Experiment Cookbook is 14 specific experiments that you can run to pick off key assumptions. So Medtronic shows one of them. They ran an operational pilot, which is essentially running a small-scale version of a business. But there are a lot of other things you can do to learn around your key assumptions.
One of my favorite ones in the book is running a thought experiment. It's a fun little case study. A few years ago, McDonald's was thinking about introducing a salad in the United States that had shrimp in it. It fit taste profiles, the customer said they loved it, people wanted healthier foods. Everything looked good.
Someone on the team then said, what if we succeed? What if this actually goes all throughout the United States? How much shrimp would we need? What is the world's supply of shrimp? It turns out McDonald's would pretty much have cornered the market on shrimp, pushing the cost up. And it wouldn't have worked. This was an experiment that took place in someone's head. It can be as simple as that. But what you want to figure out is, what don't I know and what is the quickest way for me to learn more about it?
Julia Kirby: You've created a launch manual that’s really for the rank and file, the would-be innovator that’s sitting in the corporate ranks trying to get something to get traction. What's your advice for the higher level in the organization, the top leadership? What could they be doing to make the corporation more conducive to getting great ideas launched?
Scott Anthony: I'll use one word to answer this, and the word is curiosity. If you look at studies about what makes innovators great, there's lots of different ways to describe it. But in my mind, what it really comes down to is a fundamental curiosity. You want to see what works and what doesn't. You want to try things. You want to explore things. So if you're a leader trying to make your organization more conducive to this work, you have to ask -- how do I make my organization more curious? What does that look like? In my mind there are four components to the curious organization.
The first is, they view their customers as human beings. They’re not facts and figures and segments. They're real people. The second thing is, just like we discussed before, they forged their strategy in the marketplace. They're willing to go try things out, even if not all of them work. The third thing you see is they love learning. Whenever you do something, Rita McGrath teaches us, two good things can happen. One is you have a commercial success. The second is you can learn something that sets you up for the next commercial success.
Many great ideas come out of failed projects. Organizations that are curious love learning from what other organizations would call failures. Finally, a curious organization lives at the intersections. That's where great ideas come from, where different mindsets and different skills collide. A curious organization brings in thinking from different contexts, exposes its people to different industries so they can make that magic happen.
Julia Kirby: Scott, The First Mile is full of great advice. Congratulations on the book. Thanks so much for being here to share your thoughts today.