There is a parable in the Bible (Matthew 13: 24-30) speaking of a farmer who bought good seed and planted it. But, when small shoots first came through the ground, there were weeds mixed among the wheat. Knowing that if he pulled the weeds, he would also uproot the wheat, he let the weeds grow with the good plants until harvest. At the final harvest, the weeds were separated from the wheat and burned.
Aside from the eternal lesson, this parable teaches us something about creativity and innovation. Not every idea is a good one. But if we try to kill all the bad ideas, we might also uproot some good ones at the same time. Instead, if we let ideas grow, we can harvest creativity and separate innovation ideas for further processing while we discard the poor ones.
We often judge creative ideas after the harvest – when a new product is delivering profit and customers express satisfaction with service and functionality. Likewise, we often “kill” ideas early in new product development (NPD) process when they do not appear to bear fruit – profitability or competitive advantage. From a business perspective, I totally agree with separating the “weeds” from the “wheat” early in the product development effort. From a leadership perspective, we do have to be careful to not tamp down the team’s creativity.
Leaders must nurture creativity, just as a farmer nurtures young shoots. Apparently, the leaves of a weed called “darnel” are indistinguishable from wheat – even by experts – until the plants mature. Similarly, we do not know if an idea is good or bad until we test it with customers.
One strategy to improve creativity, and to encourage customer feedback on all ideas, is to let the biggest naysayer try to prove an idea is bad. Within constraints of time, budget, and scope, a team member who doubts the success of an idea can try to demonstrate it is a bad idea. Either they are correct, or they become the biggest champion for the concept. Either way, the team wins, and customers are best served with creative, innovative ideas.
In innovation, we have several tools at our disposal to separate the wheat from the weeds. First, a rigorous NPD process compares the goals of an individual idea with the strategic objectives of the organization. A company’s vision might be to grow a specific product line or brand. Or the firm may have goals to cut costs. New product development projects must align with these goals to advance.
Another tool that product development professionals use to promote good ideas is Product Portfolio Management (PPM). Within the framework of PPM, organizational leaders rank and prioritize all projects and ideas. Decision criteria vary from firm to firm but generally include strategic alignment, profit potential, and customer satisfaction. PPM balances risk of short-term and long-term innovation investments as well.
Finally, innovation is mixed with quality just as the farmer’s field was mixed of weeds and wheat. Successful product development only occurs when we deliver quality products and services to our customers. Quality includes elements of reliability, functionality, and maintainability.
Quality in new product development encompasses the product design and the project management process. In the former case, we test ideas and concepts with customers and ensure that QC standards guide manufacturing. In the latter case, we work to constantly improve the system in which a project moves through various development phases and gates.
Separating Wheat and Weeds
Today’s technology is very different than in Biblical times. Robots patrol fields taking photos of young shoots to classify them as weeds or wheat. Ultra-accurate machines then spray precisely on the weed leaves to kill them or exactly on the wheat leaves to fertilize them . However, the risk is the same – if you mistake wheat for a weed you can kill your entire crop.
As product innovation leaders, we must be careful not to kill good ideas along with the bad ones. Maintaining creativity is important to continue designing and developing new products and services to satisfy customer needs. We need to let ideas mature to test concepts with potential customers. On the other hand, limited investment reduces the risk of failed products.
Tools like an NPD process (we recommend WAGILE product development) and PPM help to sort the “weeds” “wheat”. Organizational strategy and growth goals help to differentiate good ideas from poor ones. PPM, in particular, ensures the best ideas are ranked the highest.
Finally, quality is what the farmer sought – wheat provides quality food while weeds are mostly inedible. Likewise, positive innovation quality metrics include customer satisfaction, market share, and market penetration. Having QA and QC in place throughout the product design and development process.
If you want to learn how to separate the wheat from the weeds, please join me for an in-depth Innovation Best Practices Workshop starting 2 June March 2021. Special discounts for multiple attendees and the unemployed. Contact me at email@example.com for more information.
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