Innovation is widely viewed as a desirable quality. Organizations strive to harness its potential. They seek out candidates who have attributes associated with innovation, such as creativity. They develop processes and projects to encourage internal innovation. Technology is driving change at a relentless pace.
If you aren’t staying on top of things, you’re falling behind, or so the thinking goes. Yet innovation is inherently unpredictable. Is it all about luck, or is there a process you can use to maximize your chances over the long haul?
Randomness versus contrivance
If companies had a secret formula that would enable them to ride the waves of change constantly, relative newcomers wouldn’t disrupt the scene. Instagram wouldn’t have ceded ground to TikTok. For years, Apple, which lagged in the mobile device market, wouldn’t have beat Nokia and Blackberry to emerge as the industry’s dominant force.
The truth is that innovation is an emergent phenomenon. It arises from the confluence of multiple factors. And while many organizations go to great lengths to study and cultivate a culture of innovation, they often focus on just one aspect.
Some of these measures enable a business to contrive to innovate in some way. Employees are capable of bringing new ideas to the table. Likewise, organizational structure and best practices can help to empower their people and encourage collaboration. Generally, the more in-depth interactions people have across departments. The more valuable their potential ideas will be.
But innovation is also tied to technological developments, many of which may originate entirely from the outside. It is a product of context, including the society that uses it and the times in which changes occur.
The age of the pandemic offers up a contemporary example. November 2020 saw the first announced Covid-19 vaccines, with over 90% reported efficacy. Both were mRNA vaccines, a technique first conceived in 1990 but only developed in the mid-2000s. And only in the current extreme circumstances has this innovation been given the massive funding necessary to realize its potential.
Using Delphi method for innovation
Thus, organizations can’t master or control the emergence of innovation. But that doesn’t stop them from trying for the next best thing. They can invest in long-term planning to get enough factors right and hope that the rest of the chips fall in their favor.
This is where the Delphi method for planning can prove useful. It refers to an approach in which organizations consult with a group of outside experts on issues where a long-term forecast is needed, but no certitude is available.
The Delphi method is highly iterative yet also anonymized. This eliminates extraneous factors such as deference to authority, reluctance to admit mistakes, or desire to conform. The iterations of feedback allow a consensus to eventually be reached, harnessing the collective’s diverse intelligence.
This technique is an excellent application of abductive thinking. Instead of aiming to achieve absolute knowledge or crunch data, which AI can do better, the consultation can focus on prospective ideas. These insights allow a business to identify promising areas for innovation in the future, even where conditions currently aren’t ripe for further development.
Cautions and limitations
Using the Delphi method for forecasting and innovation actually isn’t a secret. However, the details of how businesses use it are usually kept under wraps.
Part of this comes from an understandable desire to manage valuable proprietary information. You wouldn’t want to leak trade secrets after commissioning them from experts, after all.
But another part of the secrecy stems from the danger of misuse and misinterpretation of the findings. Information getting out can change behaviors and developments in ways that could render the entire study’s predictions invalid.
Another limitation of the Delphi method is its lack of immediate application. It takes a lot of time to collect opinions from experts and work towards achieving a consensus. Consequently, many organizations may choose to use a modified Delphi method with only two rounds of feedback. Even then, results may not yield actionable guiding principles.
Fostering innovation doesn’t have to be something every company has to strive for. You can always harness the potential of the Delphi method in other ways. Work with an organization that brings together experts in a complex domain, such as B2B digital marketing services. They can handle the collaboration and ferment of ideas necessary to innovate and deliver new solutions for you.
When your immediate needs have been addressed, and your organization has enough stability to plan for the long term, you can begin to plan an innovation strategy in earnest. And that’s where you can bring in the Delphi method to maximize your long-term potential.