How to fill your innovation pipeline with sustainable innovations
Many companies are striving for sustainability but are not sure how to generate sustainable product ideas. They find it hard to innovate outside the boundaries and patterns they have been following over the past decades. In this post I share a process how to create innovations that are truly sustainable but also successful on the market.
After one of my previous posts on how to rate the sustainability of your products I was asked several times “What do I do if none of my ideas are sustainable?” “How can I find truly sustainable innovations that are not only a optimization of the current products and services?”
In this post I will show you how to use the previously explained rating tool as an idea generating tool.
The 4 questions to rate sustainability of a product or service
Let’s quickly recap the rating questions:
- Does it have a net positive impact on the well-being of all key stakeholders?
- Does it use all types of capital responsibly?
- Does it create inter-generational value?
- Does it fix a dysfunctional system (such as education, healthcare, food etc.)?
This is how the rating system works: If you can answer the first question with a “yes” you get a one star rating, if you can also answer the second question with a “yes” you get two stars and so on. (adapted version of Raz Godelnik’s post in 2017.)
By turning these rating questions into “How Might We” Questions, they can easily be used to generate sustainable ideas.
“How Might We” Questions help you create sustainable ideas
If you turn the first question into a “How Might We” Question it will now read: How might we have a net positive impact on the well-being of all key stakeholders?
If you do this exercise for the first time, each of these “How Might We” Questions will trigger new questions such as:
- Who are our main stakeholders?
- How do we currently affect their well-being?
- What resources and capital are we currently using?
- What does “responsible use of capital” mean for us?
- What inter-generational effects does our product or service currently have?
- What dysfunctional systems are we currently living in?
So, if you do this for the first time, I recommend to start with the questions on stakeholders and resources only. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed by the number of questions to be answered and might get stuck in analysis-paralysis.
The next step comes in two iterations. Iteration 1 will deliver sustainable ideas, Iteration 2 will deliver sustainable innovations.
Iteration 1: Ideate on Sustainable Ideas
So if you have identified your effect on your main stakeholders and resources, start the ideation process by asking:
- How might we increase the net-wellbeing of stakeholder A?
- How might we increase the net-wellbeing of stakeholder B?
- How might we use resource A more responsibly?
- How might we use resource B more responsibly?
and so on.
I am sure, this will create more ideas for truly sustainable products and services than you can bring to the market. But many of these ideas will not be successful on the market, this is why we need a second iteration.
The next step is to take these ideas through a second iteration: The desirable-viable-feasible-iteration.
Iteration 2: Ideate on Desirability, Feasibility and Viability
Also this second iteration is driven by How-Might-We-questions:
How might we…
- make this idea desirable?
- make this idea feasible?
- make this idea viable?
The ideas that come out of this second iteration will be sustainable at their core, because the initial ideas was created with sustainability as target. Thanks to the second iteration the ideas will also be successful on the market because they have been refined to be desirable, feasible and viable.
Looking for the next challenge?
If at a certain point in time you sense that you have exhausted the potential around the well-being of your stakeholders and the responsible use of capital, you can take on the next challenge: Creating inter-generational value:
“ How might we generate inter-generational value with our products and services?”
Still not challenging enough? Then try the 4-star-question:
“How might we fix a dysfunctional system (such as education, healthcare, food etc.) with our products or services?
So the bottom line of this post is: If you turn the rating questions into “How Might We” questions, you quickly have a highly effective tool to generate massive amounts of sustainable ideas. If you iterate on them with the desirable-feasible-viable-scheme you will finally have sustainable and successful innovations.