Innovation Process:

Radical Innovation

Fuzzy Logic

Dealing With the Early Phase of the Innovation Process Characterized by a Fuzzy Front End



"Most innovators are successful to the extent to which they define risks and confine them." ~ Peter Drucker

"At the same time, if you try to eliminate all uncertainty and control every risk,
you'll find yourself frozen in place, never doing anything
new." ~ Christopher Meyer


The early stage of the radical innovation process is ripe with opportunity, but it is also devoid of many definitive facts. Due to its high degree of ambiguity, this development phase has become known as "the fuzzy front end."3  >>>

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Fuzzy logic is a system of logic that allows for degrees of uncertainty, rather than depending on absolute truth-values, and that is used to make human thought processes or imprecise information accessible to computers.

While the situations that fuzzy logic addresses are ambiguous, fuzzy logic itself is a very defined methodology. Modern business and technology leaders use the managerial equivalent of fuzzy logic to address the ambiguity of the fuzzy front end.

The core elements of this approach include:1

  1. "No plan survives contact with the enemy." Map is not the territory. Whatever plan you create will not be one you will ultimately implement.

  2. Having a plan is better than not having one. Having a collective understanding of business context, intentions and guiding principles will enable your team to select and communicate alternate directions knowledgeably and quickly.

  3. Make decisions at an early phase. You'll never have all the data. Waiting for more data can go indefinitely. Besides, much of what is called data, such as market research, is more opinion than fact.  >>>

  4. Be flexible. Ongoing thinking and action brings strategy to life. Having built a consensus around the market, competition, and technology and having picked a direction, never turn your radar off. Scan constantly for new developments, reassess your past decision, and be ready to retarget briskly when needed. Locking into any plan when the competitive context continues to change is a foolish approach.  >>>

  5. Think of product and service families. "One-off thinking yields one-off products. One-off projects, even when successful, are very expensive. One-off projects live by themselves, with little connection to past or future efforts, and require more energy, specialized skills, and tools from every corner of the firm."1

  6. Find a partner. Don't do it alone. Focus internally on where you can make a world class contribution and then leverage the development risk, investment and reward with others who can bring their complementary skills, resources and capabilities to the party. With partnerships, your capabilities, capacity, and accountability only begin inside your office walls.

  7. Balance customer feedback with your own understanding of the technology potential. "Listen to your current customers, but don't always believe them. Often the benefits of new technology move faster than your current customers are willing to accept."1 Remember however that although customers can be overly conservative, technology push by itself rarely wins.

  8. Focus on opportunity, not financial returns. Money isn't everything. Measuring return, risk, and investment solely in terms of dollars is a mistake. Capabilities grow through use, and how fast they grow is critical to your success. Jump into the market before the financial returns meet your requirements.

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  1. "Relentless Growth", Christopher Meyer

  2. "Radical Innovation", Harvard Business School

  3. "Developing Products in Half the Time", Donald Reinertson and Preston Smith

  4. "The Art of Innovation", Tom Kelley