On the Black Belt path

I spent three days last week outside of Cincinnati Ohio, at the home of Innovation Engineering – EurekaRanch. I was there getting Black Belt training, since this grasshopper is on the path to Innovation Enlightenment.

OK, it’s not as exotic or spiritual as when my older daughter spent a month in a Taiwanese monastery. But I do feel enlightened after my days there, and ready to further blend the tools and discipline of the Innovation Engineering Management System with the other entrepreneurial tools of Top Gun.

One of my biggest insights is the importance of rapid cycles focused on resolving the most significant issues facing would-be innovators. A major component of the Commercialize piece of Innovation Engineering is the concept of “Death Threats” – the most significant uncertainties that could kill an idea if the resolution of that uncertainty goes the wrong way. For example, will the product work? will enough customers actually pay money to solve the problem an innovation addresses? does somebody else have a patent on the concept already?

During our training last week, the class of 25 received lots of help identifying death threats. But my “aha” was the discipline of focusing on the biggest death threats first. Human tendency is to work on the easy stuff first. Rack up little successes and hope that will somehow translate into momentum for the big ugly issues.

But it doesn’t work that way. Developing a logo (easy to do) won’t help build momentum towards understanding if customers will pay for your innovation. The discipline of Innovation Engineering forces you to take on the big uglies, and fast: in weekly cycles of action (Plan/Do/Study/Act) using an online project management tool, innovators break down steps towards resolving death threats – one way or another – and report progress to senior management and black belt coaches. In person or by phone, as well as online. There is no place to hide. Make progress, or be prepared to kill an idea.

Or, to use the Steve Blank/Silicon Valley term, be prepared to pivot.

That weekly discipline will be rolled into future Top Gun programs. It accelerates innovation, and acceleration is one of the primary functions of Top Gun. It’s also entirely consistent with the Steve Blank, LeanLaunchLabs approach. Like the innovative entrepreneurs we work with, we’re continuously improving!