The Innovation Expedition: A Visual Toolkit to Start Innovation


Many books on innovation focus on the culture of the organisation and the usual innovative examples like Apple and Amazon; not many talk about the hard slog of the innovation journey with its diverse processes, challenges and multiple outcomes.This book by Gijs van Wulfen charts out the innovation roadmap using the creative metaphor of historical expeditions, drawing parallels with the stories of Roald Amundsen, Charles Darwin, Ferdinand Magellan, Marco Polo, Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong.

Innovation is highly relevant to every organisation, but an estimated eighty percent of innovation projects never reach the market and fizzle out along the long and arduous journey. This book offers solutions which may stem the gap here, and is packed with 37 tools and techniques, 21 charts, 12 checklists, and 5 main cases.

Gijs van Wulfen (@gijsvanwulfen) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method to ideate new products and services. He was a consultant at Ernst & Young Consulting and Boer & Croon Strategy & Management Group. He is the author of the Dutch book 'Creating New Products.' Gijs was chosen by Linkedin as No.2 of the International Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2012.

The legendary explorers described in the book succeeded because they had a sense of urgency, courage, new technology, teamwork and perseverance. They prepared well, had alternate plans, and had a sense of empathy. For example, Magellan had Malay interpreters on his journey; Amundsen studied Eskimo wilderness techniques before reaching the South Pole; Hillary fought hard to overcome the sense of fear and loneliness.

Successful innovators too love the challenge of being first, are willing to undertake long journeys, are undaunted by high risk, are serendipitous in their search, tap deep sources of passion sometimes stretching back to their childhood days, and are able to develop a sharp sense of focus.

The book also does a good job of identifying why innovation initiatives often fail (eg. betting on only one idea, unable to shake off old ideas, neglecting customers), and when innovation may actually not be necessary (eg. no market changes are expected, incremental change brings adequate results, a new corporate vision has not yet been spelt out).

Roadblocks to innovation arise from organisational culture (inability to change, lack of curiosity, short-term mindset), uncertainty (fear of failure, lack of vision), lack of support (no sponsors or consensus), market myopia, overflow/underutilisation of ideas, and talent shortage.

The author has developed an innovation method spanning 20 weeks, called FORTH (an acronym for the five phases: Full steam ahead, Observe and learn, Raise ideas, Test ideas, Homecoming). I have summarised the basic principles in Table 1, but each chapter offers more details and guidelines on how to organise workshops, creative exercises and the composition and size of the required teams – along with deliverables, expected outcomes, and potential risks.

Table 1: The FORTH innovation method




Success Factors

Full Steam Ahead

Identifying innovation assignment, internal client, exploration of opportunities

Innovation Focus Workshop, Ideation Team, Kickoff Workshop

People who think outside the box, team diversity, management participation

Observe and Learn

Identifying range of technologies, identifying customer frictions, perspectives for innovation

Trend Exploration, Customer Meets, Learning Workshops

Use Web and crowdsourcing, identify problems to solve

Raise Ideas

Reaching the creative peak

Brainstorming Session, Concept Improvement Workshop I

Brainstorming offsite, two-day long sessions, divergence followed by more convergence

Test Ideas

Identifying appeal in concepts, connecting with customers

Concept Testing, Concept Improvement Workshop II

Online tests, customer feedback, brand alignment


Narrowing down to 3-5 concepts, filling innovation pipeline

Business Case Workshops, Final Presentation, Concept Transfer Workshop

Business cases instead of just post-its and mood boards, profit potential

Many of the innovation workshops and sessions will require the use of skilled facilitators, especially if outsiders are part of the creative and insights teams. Facilitators should balance viewpoints, include fun, be nimble, sustain momentum, respect all participants, and use creative ambience such as music. Idea toolkits should include openers, energisers, generation tools, selection filters, and brainstorming games.

Design thinking as a discipline is strongly advocated in the book; this calls for integrative thinking, experimentalism, empathy and collaboration. To keep on top of market trends, Gijs offers a list of useful sites: Springwise, Trendwatching, Trendhunter, TrendOriginal, TrendCentral, CoolBusinessIdeas, TED, CoolHunting and Mashable.

Gijs also urges innovators to develop ways of classifying customers in relevant ways: such as initiator, influencer, decider, buyer, user, light user, heavy user, ex-user.

Cases and mini-profiles fortify the material, eg. Ben & Jerry ice cream (the founders launched it after a taking a $5 course on icecream making; now it is a global giant with not just a business statement but a social ethics statement). Innovators profiled include Shigeru Miyamoto (Nintendo game creator, who draws on the thrills of exploring caves by flashlight as a child).

The author lists innovation failures (eg. Sony Betamax, Apple Newton, Microsoft Zune, Harley Davidson perfume) and even innovations made by happy accidents (eg. penicillin, pacemaker, post-its, plastics, cornflakes, saccharine and Coke!).

In sum, this is a detailed and comprehensive guide to innovation processes in an organisation, and will be useful for startups scaling up as well as incumbent market leaders. The layout is visually reach and informative, and makes for effective browsing – in some ways similar to the book “Ten Types of Innovation” .

The book is packed with superb quotes and proverbs (see also some examples from my forthcoming book Startup Proverbs published on the YourStory site), and it would be good to end this review with these words of inspiration.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Chinese proverb

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore. – Andre Gide

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries. – Aldous Huxley

If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. – Albert Einstein

The best way to have an idea is to have lots of ideas. – Linus Pauling


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