Great Ideas Have The X Factor

Everybody knows the television show where a jury looks for talent with the X factor, that “certain something" that makes for star quality. As innovators, we are also in search of ideas with the X factor. But when do our ideas have it? Which criteria must an idea meet to get star quality?
Generally in this early phase, an idea is little more than a fleeting thought, a word or image whereby we experience a mild ‘we-have-to-do-something-with-this’ sensation. It is only a rough diamond, like most candidates in the first round of the X factor. And there is still a long way to go. An important question is, is it enough to survive the corporate innovation jury?
An idea with the X factor is very appealing to (new) customers, very appealing to your company and can be brought to life quickly. In new book 'The Innovation Expedition' these three core qualities lead to seven characteristics for great ideas for innovative products, services or business models:
  1. Very appealing to customers.
  2. It stands out in the market.
  3. It has great potential for extra turnover.
  4. It has adequate profit potential.
  5. It fits management’s business goals.
  6. It is (somehow) considered quickly feasible.
  7. It creates its own internal support.
It is pretty evident that potential customers have to see the new product idea as something really attractive. During the innovation process, customers can serve as a fanbase, similar to the viewers of the X-factor shows while the idea is still being developed.
However, there is more to it than that. The new product or service idea must really stand out in the market and supply concrete advantages relevant to the current situation of customers (a camera tablet for the inspection of the small intestine). It must give potential customers a concrete reason to change. A really innovative product or service idea will solve relevant problems of customers (long lasting flowers), or will make something totally new possible (Virgin Galactic space flights). This not only applies to the consumer market, but also to B2B markets where services or products often play a huge role in the business processes of customers. When it comes to the decision to buy, many people and departments are involved. There will have to be a definite reason to consider changing to something new (Tarmac that can be rolled up like a carpet saves a lot of time to apply).
An attractive and distinctive new product idea might cause a stir internally. It is therefore important that you are fully aware of possible resistance from the start. There’s often more than one X factor jury member who has a different opinion. Manfred Kets de Vries, professor in management and leadership at INSEAD, once said: ‘The only person waiting for a change is a baby with a wet diaper.” He is spot on with this. An idea must fit your personal goal as a manager for it to get your support. Companies look for fast growth. It’s an idea with the X factor if it will bring higher turnover and more profits and, above all, if it is somehow considered to be feasible in the short term.
So to reach the X factor finals, an innovative idea must successfully pass through a lot of stations in the innovation process. Ideally, a good new product idea is not only supported by the creators, but must eventually have gained the full support of the development team, senior management as well as line management, even if there was some opposition at the beginning.
A good idea may not be obvious to everyone right away. It may look and sound like Susan Boyle, the Scottish singer discovered on Britain’s got Talent, April 2009. Global interested was sparked by the huge contrast between her powerful voice and her plain appearance on stage. Within nine days of her audition, videos of Boyle had been viewed over 100 million times.


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