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In this blog the proven FORTH innovation method, is explained by our great partner and the founder himself, Gijs van Wulfen.

Starting innovation is for many a struggle to master. A study by Booz & Company shows only a quarter of all companies are effective at the start of innovation. And Stage-Gate Guru Robert Cooper shows that of every seven new product/service projects, about four enter development, 1.5 are launched, and only one succeeds.

You might recognize some of the struggles in practice:

  • “Our short-term mindset rules.”
  • “Our innovation process is unorganized. It’s chaos.”
  • “We cannot change our habits within the company.”
  • “We struggle to get inside the head of our customers.”
  • “There is no support for innovation among my colleagues.”

So HOW do you start innovation effectively with FORTH innovation method?

We like to help you with a structured approach, which combines both creativity and business reality. The innovation method is called FORTH – an acronym found in the first letter of each of the 5 steps: Full Steam Ahead, Observe & Learn, Raise Ideas, Test Ideas and Homecoming.

The FORTH innovation methodology structures the chaotic start of innovation and fosters a culture for innovation in an expedition of 20 weeks.

The deliverables of this innovation expedition are 3-5 mini new business cases for innovative concepts, which fit the ‘in the box’ reality of your organization – otherwise nothing will happen.

FORTH innovation methodology was developed in practice and has been used successfully in Europe by more than 60 organizations in both B2B and B2C markets and in non-profit sectors. The method is the base of the innovation bestseller book: The Innovation Expedition.

Recent scientific research, studying 10 FORTH cases, shows that the use of the FORTH methodology doubles your innovation effectiveness.

A FORTH Expedition of 20 weeks with a multi-disciplinary team has 5 stages.

FORTH innovation method Stage 1: Full steam ahead

Preparation and a good innovation method increases the chance of success. First you determine the purpose and direction for the ideation phase in an innovation assignment. And you determine the criteria the innovative concepts must comply to. The second important decision is to determine what your ideal ideation team looks like. The bigger the team, the greater the diversity and the greater the chance of wild, crazy, pattern breakthrough ideas. A special mission asks for special people.

That’s why top managers are also part of the innovation team. When they are part of it, they will support the end results.

At the FORTH kick-off workshop an enthusiastic multidisciplinary team is ready to go.

To dig deeper check 4 free checklists to download on Full Steam Ahead.

FORTH innovation method Stage 2: Observe and learn

There are no old roads to new solutions. That’s why it is essential to get fresh insights. That is the essence of stage two. Who is the potential customer and what motivates and frustrates him or her? Identifying customer frictions is key. In this phase you get to know the customer and his or her behaviour. Besides customers, other sectors and thought leaders serve as a source of inspiration for the innovation opportunities, identified in the kick-off.

Ask yourself the question “If we want to innovate in this direction, from whom can we learn?” This way you look for best practices and valuable experiences of other persons or organizations involved with these opportunities.

Team members share their insights and lessons learned in several ‘Observe and learn’ workshops in this phase. The exploration take place in six weeks. At the end, the ideation team gained relevant new customer insights and has explored interesting innovation opportunities. To dig deeper check 4 free checklists to download on Observe and Learn.

FORTH innovation method Stage 3: Raise Ideas

This step is the creative pièce de résistance of FORTH. It consists of an intensive two-day ideation workshop. Ideation is inspired by the discovery stage and team members normally cannot wait to share their ideas. This leads often to 750 ideas or even more. They are converged into 40 idea directions and twelve concrete concept statements. In a second session the concepts are taken a step further and are improved.

External experts are invited to strengthen the team. Use cartoonists to visualize ideas and to take care of the first designs. Dig deeper and check 4 free checklists to download on Raise Ideas.

FORTH innovation method Stage 4: Test Ideas

How attractive are the new product or service concepts really? That’s a legitimate question. Therefore you reflect on the concepts immediately. The strength of the new concepts is checked among potential customers. This research, on a small scale, can be done quickly and simultaneously in several countries or continents, with ‘live’ customers or online. First reactions from potential customers often offer excellent handles for improvement. Another workshop takes place in which the team brainstorms how weak spots can be fixed.

Having concepts tested in this early phase creates the advantage that you can use the ‘Voice of the Customer’ to gain internal acceptance for the concepts later on in the stage-gate process. At the end of this phase it is decided which 3-5 concepts are worked out as mini new business case in the last phase. Again, you can check 4 free checklists to download on Test Ideas.

FORTH innovation method Stage 5: Homecoming

In The final stage of FORTH you bring home the deliverables of the innovation expedition. It is not a bunch of yellow post-its or mood boards. Instead the innovative concepts are worked out as mini new business cases. These are business plans per concept elaborating on essential business elements such as the attractiveness of the new concepts to the target group, the sales and profit potential, how the concept fits in the business strategy and whether realising it is considered feasible.

Presenting end results in this form creates a lot of appreciation in the boardroom. A business case is something top management will recognize and understand. The activities in this last stage cover around four weeks. At the end of this fifth – and final – stage the ideation team has completed its tasks. In practice it takes you around fifteen weeks after the kick-off to return with 3-5 mini new business cases. Dig deeper and check 4 free checklists to download on Homecoming.

FORTH users are very satisfied with the method

The strengths of the method are described by them as:

  1. Systematic.
  2. Fosters internal cooperation.
  3. Closely connects the end-customer.
  4. Generates tangible business cases.
  5. Increases your innovation effectiveness.
  6. Fosters a culture for innovation.

Gijs van Wulfen published the Amazon innovation bestseller: “The Innovation Expedition”.

5 star review: “Here’s just about everything you need to know about how to establish and then sustain an innovation culture” (Bob Morris; Amazon reviewer).


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