Inside Out Thinking – What is it & Why is it a problem?

Most innovation projects start with a question. “Can we?”

“Is it possible to make that widget or technology smaller?”

“Can we make a version of that successful competitor product?”

“What would happen if we added an app to our premium product line?”

Sounds good right? Challenging, probing questions to test what’s possible.

Unfortunately and all too frequently, those questions aren’t followed up by the simple next response “Should we?”

The consequence of that is that many companies develop what we call an ‘Inside Out’ culture. Driven entirely by their own internal focus on the possibilities of their technology and business strategies and forgetting that without addressing a real need, none of it will work.

How bad could that be you may ask?

Well, how about starting with some statistics.

  • 95% of all innovation fails.
  • 11 out of 12 start-ups fail

The single biggest reason that this occurs? A lack of understanding by the customer/consumer as to what the value of the product actually was.

That’s right, intriguing and often technologically fascinating product ideas that no-one actually needed.

So how do companies manage to get so far along a track of developing a product without actually asking the question , “hang on a minute, who actually needs this and why?”

Surely someone in that organisation puts their hand up and says “what exactly is the value of that?”

As someone who’s worked in the field of innovation consulting for 20 years, I’ve discovered that the psychology is often very interesting.

First we should forget the notion that no-one sees the problem during development.

I regularly work with teams where the entire group know that the innovation they are working on is a slowly unfolding car crash and not one of them has any faith in the idea or it’s potential.

However some senior manager has given the technology their blessing, the company has already sunk multiple millions of R&D dollars into the platform and it’s progress to market seems like an inevitability.

I’ve also walked into a room with 20 people working on a project and asked them “who’s this for?” and received 20 different answers,

20 different perspectives on the target, on the problem it addresses and the benefit it offers,

How is it possible for a project to progress for years at vast expenses and with a plethora of really clever people working on it and yet have no clarity on the need it addresses?

Easy! No one asked.

No system exists in many companies to capture those questions and answers and no one in senior management requires those answers to be checked before a green light is given to invest or launch.

That’s right. Every day up and down the land in really big companies with shareholders and everything, products are allowed to launch without any kind of value proposition being required.

I’ve seen lip service being paid to the idea.

Teams being asked by senior management to bring 7 use cases for a product to a board meeting.

Those use cases however, are not actually based on anything more than a quick brainstorm by the team at the eleventh hour.

This process of retrospectively back fitting an explanation against a product that’s never been tested with customers is common place.

Senior management that don’t trust market research anyway are placated and the team pass the final hurdle prior to launch with an internal perspective on what real people ‘out there’ may potentially do.

Let’s remind ourselves again that 95% of innovation fails.

Hardly seems surprising.

What these companies need is a culture of ‘Outside in’ thinking.

They need to start the project with the question, ‘Should we?’ and then leave the ‘Can we?’ until that first point is properly understood.

Forcing people in a company to agree on a Value Proposition isn’t unreasonable.

Hell, if you can’t even agree internally on why your product exists and who is it for, what are the chances that any customer is going to be able to work that out.

Why would they do a better job at figuring out something the team who’ve spent 2 years on it, can’t decide?

A Value Proposition isn’t hard to write, but it serves the vital function of forcing teams (and senior management) to address those tricky questions they’d really rather went unasked.

It’s amazing how liberating coming to a coherent consensus can actually be.

If you’d like to know more about how to write a Value Proposition simply and easily with your team then visit

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