Larry Keeley

Co-founder and President of Innovation and strategy, Doblin

As an obsessive investigator into the root causes of innovation failure, Larry Keeley believes that "almost everything about the way innovation is taught and practiced and asserted is wrong." After all, since innovation fails about 96% of the time, he wonders why people even bother ever to listen to innovation "experts." In the main, the field has advanced to "about the same state as medicine when leeches, liniments and mystery potions were the sophisticated treatments of the day."

Keeley is the thought-leader's thought leader. Amazingly articulate, down-to-earth and just plain smart, he's the co-founder and president of innovation and strategy consulting firm, Doblin, Inc., and the chief architect of the emerging science of innovation which is at the heart of Doblin's practice. His soon-to-be published book, Taming of the New, represents a guide to the new disciplines of innovation.

Good timing since there's such great demand today for methods that ensure innovation effectiveness. "Most good leaders today are saying ‘I've got to figure out a way to get to organic growth," explains Keeley.

So what are the new disciplines of innovation? To understand what the new disciplines of innovation are, you first need to abandon long-held beliefs about what innovation is, how it works, and how you get it to succeed.

Take new product introductions for example. Long thought to be at the core of innovation, new products are, if anything, a distraction—"an overly emphasized, not-very-important basis for innovation." Keeley's research suggests that many other types of innovations, from changes to channels or brands or customer experience, to changes in processes or service systems or business models, are vastly more likely to give you sustained advantage.

Here's another incorrect assumption about innovation—it's not fundamentally about creativity. "We say it's time to ‘think out of the box,'" says Keeley, "but this is only likely to yield a vast array of bad ideas that we then spend months analyzing before we discard." He believes most brainstorming efforts are a force of chaos that distracts a company, giving only a vague sense that they're innovating when in fact all they're doing is being random.

"Good companies need to begin someplace else," he explains. "They need to use the right methods in more or less the right order and in more or less the right proportion to innovate effectively."

So what specifically are those methods? A good innovation exercise begins with diagnostics. Keeley's methodology includes assembling the right combination of customer needs (most of them unmet and subtle); with competitive patterns, those actions being taken by the players in an industry; plus a company's own capabilities, all integrated with clear step-by-step protocols. This sounds like it ought to be self-evident, but Keeley finds that "the absence of good innovation protocols means that the average innovation team is forced to make up both what they will address and how they will address it—a prescription for failure."

By integrating these three types of insights—customer needs, competitive patterns, and a company's own capabilities—and combining them with solid protocols, innovation becomes a routine competence and companies can double or triple their success rates. In fact, Doblin clients routinely find success with key programs more than fifty percent of the time.

Keeley has a vision of the world a few years from now. Innovation will be just another management discipline—like budgeting or auditing—that is well understood, thoroughly analyzed, shared and taught. He describes his work as cracking the genetic code of innovation so that "regular Joes and Josephines, not just geniuses and crackpots and gadflies and tinkers," can do innovation.

What appeals to him is the sense that innovation can be so implicitly understood that everyone who wants to can feel like they can not only participate but also succeed. "We're entering a time when a great many organizations and individuals can be effective at creating something new and noteworthy and workable."

"Although historically," he says, "innovation was used to keep people out, now you use it to invite people in." A member of BIF's research advisory council, he explains that the new way to succeed is materially different from anything before.

"As the competition heats up to create switched on communities trying to find the future first, BIF has a real head start—this is the only entire STATE trying to pioneer this type of innovation agenda."

Keeley has devoted his entire career to the topic of innovation. Why? "Largely," he says, "because I think it's the greatest gift we can give each other as a species—a way to author a future, predictably and reliably—that we want to live in."