"The odd thing is that no one sets out to design something that's mediocre. So why does design go wrong so often? Let's set aside the rational reasons why projects can fail - like budgetary constraints, deadline pressure and lack of talent - to concentrate on the scenarios that should be easily avoidable, but crop up again and again, with predictably dire results." and goes on to list those scenarios:
1. Designing for other designers.
2. Change for change's sake.
3. They made us do it.
4. Innovation for innovation's sake.
5. As long as it's green.
6. Design by committee.
7. Up, up and away.
8. But it worked for them.
You can read all about them in her article.
The Economist wrote in its article "Expect the Unexpected" in its September 2003 Technology Quarterly
"Innovators who keep their eyes open for unexpected results—and quickly take advantage of them—reap the biggest rewards
LATER this month, The Economist will announce the winners of its innovation awards following a day-long discussion on the factors that propel successful innovation inside some organisations but not in others.......
In his book ”Why Innovation Fails”*, Carl Franklin quotes an intriguing study by three academics, Donald Lehmann at Columbia University in New York, and Jacob Goldenberg and David Mazursky both at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The researchers looked at 197 product innovations, of which 111 were successes and 86 failures. What they found was that the successful innovations had some, or all, of the following features: they were moderately new to the market, based on tried and tested technology, saved money, met customers' needs and supported existing practices. By contrast, the products that failed were based on cutting-edge or untested technology, followed a “me-too” approach, or were created with no clearly defined solution in mind.
So far, so obvious. What was much less so was the researchers' list of “idea factors”—where the ideas for the innovations came from, and how they determined the success or otherwise of the ensuing innovation. For instance, “need spotting” involved actively looking for an answer to a known problem, while “solution spotting” meant finding a new way of using an existing piece of technology—much as the CD player capitalised on the recently invented laser diode. “Mental inventions” were things dreamed up in the head with little reference to the outside world, while “random events” were serendipitous moments when innovators stumbled on something they were not looking for but immediately recognised its significance. The two other sources of ideas were “market research” and “trend following”.
When the team plotted the success-to-failure rate of the six different idea factors, the two worst by far turned out to be trend following and mental inventions. Both produced three times as many failures as successes. By contrast, need spotting produced twice as many successes as failures. Market research generated four times more, and solution spotting seven times more successes than failures. But the clear winner in the innovation stakes was “taking advantage of random events”, which generated 13 times more successes than failures.
Stopping losers early
Such a taxonomy is clearly a powerful tool for predicting winners. The researchers reckon their model gets it right nine times out of ten. In many ways, however, predicting losers is more useful than backing winners. With typically 20 times more failures than successes, that is where the real cost of innovation lies. Weeding out the likely losers early in the innovation chain before development costs escalate would free up untold resources to apply either to widening the search for new ideas, or concentrating all efforts on the surviving few.
Yet again we can see that the "easy" solutions do not deliver the benefits that innovation teams hope for, but probably don't expect. But random events also need observers who can spot something different is going on and say "that's interesting!" and mean it. A favourite co-conspirator, sorry, collaborator, of mine would always say to people "That's interesting; let's take some time, to figure out why!"
The invention of the laser mentioned in the Economist article reminded me of a strategy and technological forecasting course I attended many years ago. Our lecturer whose day job was managing the Personnel Departmentat a world-renowned chemical company, knew that his Research department had applied for many laser patents. He sat on a committee that had recommended they stop work in that area as they realised that there were no really good applications for the technology. I knew that my company were building lasers to use in manufacturing applications, among other uses so I was stunned to hear this news...I could not say a thing, of course. But it may have been the right decision for that company at that time but maybe they should have kept their options open! We may never know!