Fostering Creativity with Structure

Creativity in the form of fresh ideas, whether from executives, salespeople or customers, is an invaluable resource to any organization. But these ideas need guidance and structure in order to achieve the key goal of Innovation: profitable growth. To successfully channel ideas into a profitable result, it is necessary to establish a formalized New Product Development Process, from concept to launch.

The New Product Development process is often referred to as The Stage-Gate innovation process, developed by Dr. Robert G. Cooper as a result of comprehensive research on reasons why products succeed and why they fail. It’s a system of best practices for organizing a New Product Development team once ideas land in the organization’s “idea hopper”and passes the hurdles and criteria to go to the Concept stage.

The Stage-Gate innovation process has two key elements.

  1. Stage. The “stage” refers to the critical activities that need to take place during a certain stage of product development. It is important that the New Product Development process be cross-business to give balanced ownership. So “stage” content should be divided amongst all business functions.
  2. Gate. The process of “gating” involves ownership, decision makers, degree of flexibility, criteria and prioritization. This includes a selection of ideas and concepts from the hopper.

During the New Product Development process, build a system of metrics to monitor progress. Include input metrics, such as average time in each stage, as well as output metrics that measure the value of launched products, percentage of new product sales and other figures that provide valuable feedback. Important for an organization to have agreement of these criteria and metrics.

Even if an idea doesn’t turn into product, keep it in the hopper because it can prove to be a valuable asset for future products and a basis for learning and growth.

Remember that it is possible to nurture both creativity and structure! Here are some tips for how:

  • Open Wide: Keep the idea funnels wide open, find and fill the product “white spaces” – untapped marketplace opportunities.
  • Sharpen Those Teeth: Make sure your Go/No-Go decision checkpoints have “teeth.”
  • Widen the Innovation Highway: Make the system lean, adaptive, flexible and scalable, in order that you can simultaneously process different types and risk levels of projects and increase sped to market.

Robert Brands is a professional Speaker, the founder of, and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation”: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, with Martin Kleinman published in March, 2010 by Wiley.