Frame the Challenge

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Summarize your organization’s background and current situation.
  • Define the concept of an orthodoxy.
  • Facilitate an orthodoxy-busting exercise with a group of people.

Are You and Your Company Ready to Begin?

Now that you’ve recruited your innovation team and you’ve outlined some high-level problems, it’s time to get more rigorous. In the modules that follow, we introduce methods to give you some direction for your own innovation project. It starts with an honest look in the mirror and an assessment of where your company is today.

Size Up Your Organization

Before any innovation journey, it’s good practice to assess your organization’s background and current situation. It helps you answer the important questions.

  • What is the high-level business problem that you’re solving? Instead of boiling the ocean, zero in on an area of opportunity.
  • Who is the customer impacted by the business problem? Are you targeting your employees, customers, or partners? And within that audience, which specific segments?

Let’s use a fictitious company to test these questions.

Aqua Blue Properties

Photo of beautiful resort, with infinity pool, overlooking blue bay

Here is how Aqua Blue might answer the two questions.

Aqua Blue is a global hotel chain for business and leisure travelers. While one of our greatest strengths is our brand, we are losing share among leisure travelers in North America. Customer feedback data suggests that retention is down. A sizeable portion of customers would opt to pay more at another hotel, or stay at a luxe apartment found on short-term rental websites, if it means a more intimate experience.

In these simple statements, Aqua Blue has zeroed in on their:

  • Business problem—Losing market share
  • Customer segment—Leisure travelers in North America
  • Pains—Impersonal experience
  • Opportunities—Take advantage of the strength of its brand by creating a feeling of intimacy that exceeds competitor expectations

This size-up exercise provides clarity around a problem statement and guides Aqua Blue’s innovation endeavor: Aqua Blue is losing customers, and it needs to do something different or its business, and potentially its brand, will suffer.

Surface Orthodoxies

Now that we’ve got a problem statement, let’s dissect it. Understand what’s driving the problem, and ask why it’s happening. Aqua Blue is losing customers—repeat bookings are down. Why? One method is to consider the orthodoxies that might be impeding the company from success.

We mentioned in the “Innovation Basics” module that innovation leaders must challenge invisible orthodoxies. An orthodoxy is a commonly held belief, mindset, or convention that helps maintain the status quo. Orthodoxies reinforce behaviors in a given context, but often they maintain and perpetuate bad behavior that is detrimental to your brand and bottom line.

Have you and your colleagues ever sighed and said, “We have soooooo many meetings.” Well, ask yourself why. The orthodoxy might be that you need consensus to make effective decisions, but unfortunately, meeting overload could cause a more unproductive or disengaged workforce.

One of the most liberating parts of innovation work is to confront these orthodoxies and bust them. Let’s check out an exercise to help us do that.

The 10 Things Exercise

This exercise, which you can do with your steering committee, surfaces orthodoxies, bad behaviors, and their consequences. Divide groups into 4–7 participants, plus a facilitator (which is likely you). Let’s imagine what members of the Aqua Blue organization would say.

  1. On a whiteboard or flip chart, the facilitator draws a table with three columns with the headers: “10 things your customer would never say about _______”, “What is the orthodoxy?”, and “What is the consequence?” '10 Things Your Customer Would Never Say About...', 'What is the Orthodoxy?', and 'What is the Consequence?'
  2. Groups shout out 10 things that your customer would never say about your company. Write these comments in the first column of your table. For example: The minibar in the hotel room is such a great value!
  3. When you have 10 or more ironic statements in the voice of the customer, identify the orthodoxy, or the reason your company enables the bad behavior, from the first column. Write these items in the second column of your table. For example: We think it’s OK to take advantage of business travelers who will expense their minibar purchases.
  4. Consider the consequences of each orthodoxy, and write them in the final column. For example, a consequence of the sample orthodoxy is that business travelers who stay at Aqua Blue hotels perceive it as too expensive for a family trip. As a result, Aqua Blue develops a family-unfriendly brand perception and misses out on converting business travelers to weekend leisure guests.

After you’ve developed a healthy list, take a step back and discuss the consequences. Which are the most severe?

The 10 Things exercise helps create a sense of urgency for businesses that is driven by customer pain. Up next, we’ll talk about how to turn these problems into opportunities.

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