Looking Beyond Your “Four Walls”: Revisited

Several months ago, I wrote an article on a topic of great interest to me (1). A consistent problem with many companies I work with is that senior management and those in position of leadership in new product development (NPD) do not consider what might be happening in other industries.  There is a need, as I like to say, to look beyond your “four walls”.

Many in organizations become too inwardly focused and believe they have all the answers. This, of course, has driven the popularity of “open innovation”. There is more, however, to “open innovation” than focusing strictly on ideas for new products and services or solutions to technical problems. The concept of “open innovation” should extend, in my opinion, to other important facets of your business such as the innovation management process itself.

A fundamental way to expose yourself to new ideas and ways of looking at your process is by reading.  And I am not talking about reading a book or article here or there. You must make a concerted effort to approach topics from multiple perspectives. Many read one book on a particular topic and believe that they have suddenly learned all there is to know. They buy the latest business best seller that purports to highlight a popular “best practice” but are sorely disappointed when they attempt to implement this process and it does not lead to any improvement.

A great example is the drive several years ago to implement phased development processes. While most companies are now using them, many companies still confuse these processes with project management. A phased development process does not replace the need to manage each project based on a keen understanding of the risk. Every project is different and will require a specific set of tools based on the risk, but all projects will be managed within the common framework of the phased development process that details the high-level deliverables necessary to pass the gates.

iterateAnother example is the use of “scrum” for managing software development. Don’t get me wrong, I think this software development project management tool is fabulous but the fundamental concept of “sprints” is based on the time-tested technique of “iterate-and-learn” cycles applied to software development. The fact is, “iterate-and-learn” is essentially a project management technique that has been used for many years to manage projects with high levels of uncertainty. It is a classic technique, and is also the basis of “lean” with its emphasis on “fail fast, fail cheap”. The point is, without having exposed yourself to many different books and articles on project management and risk, or without the benefit of many years of practical hands-on experience, you would come away with the impression that “scrum” is a fundamentally a new way to manage a project with high levels of uncertainty.

One challenge is that innovation management processes are contextual. What might work in one company with a specific history, culture, and technology, will not work elsewhere. Only be considering a topic from many angles and perspectives will you truly be able to integrate other’s thinking into improving your process. And make no mistake: every company can improve some aspect of their innovation management process.

So, what to do? Well, start by considering this bibliography of some of my favorite books on a variety of topics associated with innovation management. But don’t stop there. Read journals and magazines on multiple topics. Become a member of PDMA and participate in your local chapter. Focus on looking beyond your “four walls”!

Do you have other books that you would add to this bibliography? Send me your comments as I am always on the lookout for investigating a topic from a different angle!


  1. See this article: Looking Beyond Your “Four Walls”

New Product Visions is a consulting company that helps organizations improve the effectiveness of their new product development processes. We specialize in small to mid-sized companies that manufacture highly engineered products. Contact us today about how we might help you!

Specialties: NPD consultants, new product development consulting, developing new products, new product development seminars, small business consulting, new product development expert, product development process, new product development strategies, integrating NPD for mergers & acquisitions, organizing for innovation, management role in NPD, project risk analysis, innovation management

2 thoughts on “Looking Beyond Your “Four Walls”: Revisited

  1. values, vision and work environment related to understand the beliefs of the social groups, markets and trends are the drives that motivate our career interest.

    I am NOHORA LILIANA RUBIO ROJAS, committed of the management and execution of new business strategies and innovation projects. Chemical Engineer, Master in Project Management, Master in Business Administration, Master in Innovation projects, Specialist in polymers.

    Best Regards

    Nohora Liliana Rubio Rojas
    Rua Deputado Laercio Corte, 1430 São Paulo, Brazil
    Mobile 55 11 981071259

  2. Companies must not only be aware of what is happening with competitors but also what is the, in the case of public companies, perception of the company and it’s product. One way is to listen and actually encourage public input. I have a ongoing example. I happen to think McDonalds Corportion is taking a wrong emphasis to turn around their falling sales. Being a person who travels a great deal in business I like the old concept of good cheap food FAST! McDonalds in their corporate wisdom has decided to further increase the menu items. Bigger burgers, gourmet coffee, new items, etc. They are now going to toast the buns 5 seconds longer. I don’t think anyone considers McDonalds as a gourmet destination. The ordering system is such that the employees fall and bump into each other behind the counter. The old Clara Peller sayings holds true…”step aside”. Or is it possible, when the store is busy, to know which line to get into? Now my point! Has anyone ever tried to submit an idea or possibly a constructive innovation idea to McDonalds? I find it impossible. First the only way is via their web site. To initiate that, a location of a particular McDonals must be provided. When this is done a particular problem must be detailed. I attempted this and detailed that I was not upset with the McDonalds I selected. I then went one to detail my problem with McDonalds and explain my idea for innovation for McDonalds Corporation. I got a boiler plate e mail in return that my problem with the selected location would be addressed. Later I received a call from the selected McDonalds location apologizing. I explained I had no problem with that location but with McDonalds Corporation in general. They gave me the phone number of the district office. The reply from the district office was that I have to go on line for any communication. They can not help. I asked for the corporation’s telephone number and extension of some trouble shooter at the home office. The response, “we don’t know”. Unbelievable! I then went through the the whole process again. I apologized to the McDonalds location and guess what? The same boiler plate response. Now if this location happens to be a franchise location the general impression is they are deficient in their procedures. Not my point at all. The point of all this to this discussion! The corporate leaders are so sure that they have all the answers that they have insulated their selfs from the possibility of “disruptive technology” or ideas that might come from the public. In this case their customer. If I were a stock holder I would be upset! I think they are…or should be!

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