Recently, I had the privilege of meeting with the CEO and part of his team at a major Australian corporation. They’re working on innovations at a faster-than-normal pace using a 90-day cycle of testing, seeing what works, dropping what doesn’t, and starting over.
The “90-Day Innovation Cycle” is becoming more popular, driven by start-up companies that are known for agility, flexibility, pivoting and other management methods that have helped them get moving. Larger companies adapting this mindset and system have been able to increase their innovation rate as well.
But can innovations be made, perfected and released in 90 days?
Harvard Business Review published this article in 2014, Building the Innovation Engine in 90 Days. In it, the authors outline their formula for shifting your company’s process for innovation into high gear. Their 90-Day Minimum Viable Innovation System fosters innovation and new ideas without the years-long process of getting innovation into operation or endless funding issues.
Their process consists of four stages:
Day 1-30: Define Your Innovation Buckets
Day 20 to 50: Zero In on a Few Strategic Opportunity Areas
Day 20 to 70: Form a Small, Dedicated Team to Develop the Innovations
Day 45 to 90: Create a Mechanism to Shepherd Projects
By fast-tracking your process, your company can get new products and/or services to the market faster, as well as identify the ones that probably won’t work.
But what if you have a Dyson, Musk or Edison on your team? The 90-day cycle wouldn’t work for innovative ideas like theirs. Consider:
Engineer James Dyson made more than 5,000 vacuum cleaner prototypes based on a centrifugal-force fan he built for a factory. For many years, he was told the same thing: “this will not work.” Today, Dyson’s vacuum cleaners, hair care tools, fans and other home care products are available all over Australia and in 65 countries around the world. Dyson’s engineering team continue to work on innovations that make life better.
Fellow engineer Elon Musk heard the same thing, (as well as “it’s not technically possible”) but continued to persevere until he was successful in creating reusable Stage One parts for rockets. After a SpaceX unmanned vehicle successfully ferried supplies to the International Space Station in 2012, SpaceX, is now a global leader in commercial space launch vehicles. Musk previously founded PayPal, electric car maker Tesla, and Zip2, one of the first online map services.
Thomas Edison didn’t just invent the light bulb one day. He made 10,000 prototypes before he got it right, and it took a lot longer in 90 days. Instead of calling his light bulb project a “failure,” he simply realized that he’d “found 10,000 was that won’t work.” His little invention transformed everyday life. (I’m typing this under two light bulbs early in the morning in downtown Melbourne café, both acknowledging Edison’s success and demonstrating the irony.)
Don’t tell someone “it can’t be done,” unless you’re prepared to be proven wrong. Dyson, Musk and Edison went out and proved that it can be done. But they didn’t do it all in 90 days. Persistence and continually working and testing new ideas helped each one eventually get to the solution that actually worked.
Great ideas need time and perseverance to grow, develop and be implemented to work. Because the world needs some big changes, (i.e. environmental sustainability, positive social impact) it’s essential that we give our teams the time and space to help achieve these big goals.
Some ideas may benefit from the 90-day system, even in a big company. But understand that not all of them will fit in that time frame.
I want to challenge large corporations to incorporate this type of deep and meaningful work into their organisation. If your company is serious about innovations that make a difference, give your team and their ideas time to progress and succeed.