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Innovate to impact framework | ThoughtWorks

The innovation efforts through this phase should directly help your organization achieve part of its strategic goals or push your functions closer to achieving their strategic goals.  

In a nutshell, deliver impact for an important business function within your organization. 

Possible risks 

The choice of targeted teams within your organization will determine your success. That’s because this needs to be a close working relationship. If your stakeholders can’t make time for, you can’t deliver.

This can be a challenge. As we saw in the first article, when business-as-usual is the priority, innovation suffers. You can’t afford to be seen as a distraction, rather than a strategic enabler.

Innovation in practice

In a commercial aircraft’s galley, space is at a premium. And with hundreds of passengers to please, every square centimeter is precious. So when looking at how to maximize use of this space, Delta Airlines’ innovation team, The Hanger, came up with an neat idea to reclaim nearly two carts’ worth of space: turning the coffee mug handles to face each other. Sometimes, valuable ideas don’t need to cost the earth.

Stage 3: Business enabler (Build customer-focused innovation engine to support sales and new client solutions) 

Once you’ve proven yourself to be a value creator for the business, it’s time to take the next step and start thinking of directly contributing to the business growth. As you start thinking of growing the impact of your innovation program, it’s important that you start thinking of impacting the sales and demand efforts of your organization and to an extent, your organization’s clients. This phase, the Business enabler, specifically targets value creation for the revenue-earning departments or in some cases, directly for the clients. 

Using the work done for building the delivery engine and value creation for internal functions, you’d have built a repository of innovations that could possibly be ready to be showcased to your clients as a part of your proposal, or a sales pitch. In some cases, there may be a need to do a targeted prototyping or concept designing for clients based on certain pre-sales activities. Your innovation team can partner with the client account teams or sales and demand teams to proactively identify opportunities to showcase your innovations to clients or create new innovations that will assist sales efforts with existing and new clients. 

This is where the focus of the innovation shifts from delivering targeted value to an internal function to target supporting business development efforts of the organization through innovation. 


The purpose of this phase is to directly support the pre-sales, client account teams and business development efforts by targeting specific client or market opportunities to help win more business. 

What you need to do? 

To prepare successfully for this stage, you should:

  • Partner with the market-facing or revenue-generating departments within your organization to understand the opportunities 
  • Understand about the existing clients and potential clients that your organization wants to target 
  • Collaborate with client account teams and sales teams to identify opportunities where innovation bring an impact on business development 
  • Identify opportunities to showcase your innovations to relevant clients (existing / potential) as a part of sales efforts 
  • Deliver new innovations that would be relevant / showcaseable to clients (existing / potential) that would open up new business opportunities 
  • Continue aligning with the business functions within the organization to deliver concepts / prototypes / innovations relevant to the market 

Expected outcome

As part of this phase, your team is now working with the direct revenue-earning (or maybe winning) departments of the organization, you can expect the team to contribute to winning more business for the organization. This is especially true when it comes to existing revenue-generating streams. 

You can do this by supporting the sales efforts by delivering innovative example PoCs, concepts, prototypes aligned with the clients or market you are targeting. The innovations that you deliver should be targeted to help open up new conversations with existing clients for more work, innovative work and help convince new clients about your capability of delivering work.

By running experiments that are targeted towards customers, clients and the business, you should get quicker way at market and opportunity assessment. It should become second nature for your teams to know about market conditions and identify where opportunities lie.

Possible risks 

The stakes are rising. You may need larger investments for the experiments you’re running — and that’s often a business challenge. Especially because you are doing a pre-investment into delivering potential revenue earning innovations that may or may not necessarily guarantee new business. 

There’s a danger that customers may still be thinking about yesteryear’s ideas and may not be really prepared for your innovation to drive their growth. So in many cases there is a likelihood that you may present a shiny new innovation to them and they may think: “This looks great, but probably we need time to be ready for this kind of work.”

Innovation in practice

At US insurance group USSA, business enhancements are achieved by going to its customers directly. It runs new ideas past its customers via USAA Labs, where members are invited to evaluate and test new ideas and concepts. For instance, members might be asked to evaluate the firm’s process for handling natural disasters or maybe a guide for managing debt. Through its innovation process, it can run experiments that target specific value and get to production through a targeted innovation process, where it has proven customer needs.


Stage 4: Strategic differentiator (Define your own blue ocean and find your sweet spot, led by innovation) 

Now that you have mastered building your innovation engine, understood how to create significant value for internal stakeholders and the organization, and also mastered the art of building innovations for clients and help strengthening existing revenue streams, it’s time to take a jump and take the next step. 

To grow significantly faster, you need to create your own blue oceans and deliver differentiated value to clients through your innovation engine. You need to create a value proposition such that it differentiates you positively against your competition and potentially, makes the competition irrelevant. This is the whole point of innovation and through this phase, you should aim to create a strategic differentiation for yourself against your competition. 


The purpose of this phase is to use innovation to build a strategic differentiator for yourself against your competition and position yourself positively in the market you operate. 

What you need to do? 

To prepare successfully for this stage, you should: 

  • Invest in R&D to understand and spot potential new market opportunities that would provide significant new value to your customers 
  • Use your market research skills to come up with new offerings, services or products for your existing customers, or to spot an entirely new customer segment 
  • Understand how this could differentiate yourself against your competition and provide you an advantage in the market 
  • Invest in building a strategic capability to support the delivery of the new offering, services or a product for your customer segment  
  • Successfully delivery value to customers and run a full cycle of acquisition, retention and growth with your customer (i.e., acquiring, retaining and growing the customer)
  • Think about building a strategic partnership with your customers and help them to graduate through their own innovation journey 
  • You can think of being successful if you are able to help customers draw significant value in the markets they operate through your new innovative offering  

Expected outcome

As a part of your strategic investment in innovation efforts, you need to create a new product, service offering or a value proposition for customers that’s innovative and positively differentiates you against your competition.  

This can be done by establishing a strategic innovation partnering with your customers and help them shape up their own innovation journey and help them deliver significant value to their customers. 

Possible risks 

The biggest risk in this is the lack of belief of leadership in investing into R&D to create true differentiation through innovation.  

It’s often seen that the leadership prefers to take low-risk approach to exploring new opportunities and it may mean that they’d miss out on creating a significant differentiator for organizations through this approach. 

This phase requires organizations to take a radical new approach and may impact culture, people and the way the business is done etc. and it needs strong and visionary leadership to take this step. 

Innovation in practice

  • Airbnb is a great example of how innovation has enabled an entire new business to be set up; one that’s disrupted the hospitality industry globally. Its unique rental platform lets people list, find, and rent short-term lodging in 65,000 cities and more than 191 countries across the globe. Innovation has proven to be a big strategic differentiator for Airbnb and allows itself to create a blue ocean for itself against the competition within the hospitality industry.

In Part Three of this series, we’ll explore how this fluency model has been implemented in practice.

Published: Jan 24, 2019

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