This is the third blog of our 5 part ‘Ignite Innovation’ blog series from the Head of Ignite Exponential, Alan Cucknell.

In our last blog, we talked about why repeatable innovation is so challenging. Fortunately, there are changes you can make internally to your processes that can help the flow of creative ideas and strategic innovation.  

1. Innovation process marketplace

There are a multitude of innovation approaches, processes and tools available in the market, examples include Design Thinking, Agile, Lean Start-up, Business Model Innovation and more.

These models, tools and insights are invaluable; in fact they are essential reading for today’s innovators. They provide lenses that we draw on in helping us to appreciate the many types of complexity we are faced with in innovation – some are great for incremental or renovation innovation. Depending on the application, some are good for open innovation, others for constrained innovation and there are also models good for targeting customer uncertainties and tackling technical challenges.

2. Strategic innovation is rarely of one type or another

In our experience, the process marketplace is not enough to create successful and repeatable strategic innovation.

As a result of the complex and multidimensional factors in our previous article (and especially that word “future”), until you’ve ‘solved’ a particular innovation challenge (‘the problem’) it simply isn’t possible to know which of the many innovation approaches, processes or tools will be most valuable. Knowing the difference means that you need to apply and combine the different models or create hybrids to achieve the desired results.

3. Value in ‘standard’ processes

Standard processes are an important enabler for training new talent, for scalability (especially important in larger organisations) and where repeatable inputs need to lead to repeatable outputs (for example in downstream product development).

But is strategic innovation, perhaps one of the activities with the highest uncertainty and importance in your business the right place for ‘standard’? 

As advertising legend John Hegardy says “If you want to be ordinary, then follow a process. The more you follow a process, the more you get good. Not great.” He observed that when you are used to using the same process… you can train people who are less knowledgeable to turn the handle – which isn’t what I would want when dealing with the future of my company.

4. Preaching one specific innovation and design process

In founding Ignite Exponential, it was interesting to us how many innovators will advocate a specific innovation or design process in which they may have specialised, and may have achieved a notable success when applied in one domain, or on one problem.

It is our observation that they then apply this process to many different industries, customers and innovation challenges as a ‘silver bullet’.


There is a well-known capabilities learning model that goes along the lines of… First we are beginners, (consciously incompetent) we need to learn and practice ‘the rules’ of the competence. As we gain experience and become more familiar with the rules we move from conscious incompetence into conscious competence as we become professionals in our respective fields.

But the masters, those with considerable experience of their domain – they have unconscious competence.

These people know the rules, they know when the rules work – and they know when they are limited. Here the rules are a starting point. And these people often break the rules to achieve greater success. It is this characteristic that resonates most strongly with our experience of what it takes to achieve success in strategic innovation.

We often need to break the rules (and certainly the processes) – to challenge our customer’s briefs, our own organisations ‘way of working’ and to work between the lines of an “‘standard process”.

It is from this unconscious competence that we find greatest value in strategic innovation collaborations – and our innovation is focused on the strategic problem at hand, not on bending it to fit a process or set of rules developed for a different time, place or problem.

For this reason, we’ve founded Ignite Exponential with a suitcase full of different innovation tools and fresh perspective on how to use them.

Has your experience been the same? Or do you know of a ‘silver bullet’ process for these early-stage strategic innovation challenges? Let us know your thoughts by following us on LinkedIn and Twitter.