“Valio’s participants found the innovation path inspiring and they provided a lot of positive feedback about the training. During the path, they learned about several new innovation and conceptualisation tools that can also be used in other projects. We plan to utilise Innoman’s services with similar cases in the future as well,” says Valio’s Innovation Manager Virpi Jonson.
The Valio team has been working on a new product for five days and also examined Valio’s innovation processes at the same time.
They’ve been moving along Innoman’s Innovation Path for about a month, meeting on five days and completing background tasks between those days.
The participants have been dealing with questions like How does our corporate culture enable risk-taking? How do factories communicate during product development? Are the factories in the right places physically? What is our value proposition?
Continuous renewal is the lifeline of every company. All companies innovate, either by developing existing or inventing completely new products or services.
Valio is constantly developing new products for new taste preferences, new needs and new markets. The company has good innovation leadership methods, innovation processes and a talented development organisation.
Despite this – or perhaps because of it – they wanted to learn more about how the expertise in the organisation could be more systematically channelled into product development activities while still remaining as creative as possible.
At the beginning of the Innovation Path, the Valio group specified a target to work on during the path, and laid out different scenarios. The second day involved generating ideas, the third focused on branding and conceptualisation, and the fourth day was spent refining the concept into a pilot and prototype. The fifth day – today – is reserved for presenting the solution to a selected audience and creating a roadmap concerning how to move forward.
The Valio management has been invited to hear the results. Also present are the innovation instructors, Innoman’s Director of Innovations Pekka Berg and Specialist Jyrki Suomala, a docent who focuses on consumer neuroscience.
The team was given the task of testing the Innovation Path. During that time, they would develop a new product line and also assess whether the path offered Valio a new way of working on innovations. Would the process work? Could it be applied to other development projects at Valio? Would the path add something fresh to the Valio way of developing new products?
The basic idea of the Innovation Path
The central element of Innovation Path work is the team. Different company functions are often separated into their own sectors and have very little interaction. The most creative – and also most optimal – result is achieved when the Innovation Path team consists of people who work in different parts of the company.
Valio put its team together according to this principle. One person worked in business functions and another in product development, a third specialised in patents while the fourth was a researcher. Each one had their own strong area of expertise and perspective on Valio products and services. During the Innovation Perth process, they learned about the views of the others and how to apply their know-how together in a new way.
Benefits of the Innovation Path
The Valio people considered it very important that the team members came from different departments. Each person’s perspective brought something essential to the work, and thus the whole became clearly greater than the sum of its parts. All in all, each person learned a lot about Valio’s overall operations during the path.
The group felt that the methods used during the Innovation Path supported the working style and the targets of the path. Different methods were used as needed. Scenario work, analyses, the Innoneuro7 method, Lego Serious Play and other tools helped the team reach its target in each situation.
A key part of the work is the instructors’ ability to choose the right tool for each phase and use it to spar the group’s thinking. One of the main ideas behind the course is Suomala’s know-how regarding how the brain learns.
Suomala believes that “decisions are not made by people but by their brains”. This is why he considers it important to understand what a person really wants.
It’s easy to agree with Suomala after hearing how he explains the Innoneuro7 method. The method has seven key factors that affect consumer decisions, ranging from influencing the personality through emotion and information to sensory clues.
For example, Suomala claims that we buy products based on very discreet clues, possibly without even being aware of this.
Product features and advertisements can affect us as subconsciously as a pebble under our heel: we can feel it but we don’t pay any attention to it. In the same way, we observe a familiar product feature in the background of a commercial – like the shape of a product – even though our attention is focused on the people moving at the front.
Our impulse network estimates a net value for this and the consumer makes a decision based on that information. Our mind may link the shape of the product in the background to a positive message in the commercial and we then buy a chocolate bar even though it wasn’t mentioned at all in the commercial, with the exception of that one product feature – the shape.
During the course, this method was used for concept evaluation, but the Valio people thought that it could also be beneficial in the early phase of branding, when considering product features.
Lego Serious Play
One of the most commonly used methods during the Innovation Path was Lego Serious Play under the direction of Berg. A key element in this method is using the Lego blocks to first build something, after which the group gives it a purpose and reflects on it together. Finally, they tell a story about the entity.
The participants felt that this is what turned them into a team so quickly. The group had never worked together previously, but Lego immediately lowered the threshold to interaction, gave them a common language and created team spirit.
This is easy to believe when watching the group. Putting an elephant, a pineapple, a crocodile and a Lego man on a pink Lego base plate and saying ‘this pineapple is foreign trade that an American competitor (the croc) is trying to eliminate, but we’re going to save it by developing a new product (the elephant) for consumers (the person)’ is sure to remove the last traces of tension and adult reserve. The threshold to exchanging ideas is low because this language allows everyone to understand each other.
Despite the fun and apparent irrationality, the game is serious and leads to great results. The Valio people said that the moment when they combined the different Lego creations into a single large structure and developed a common story for it was when they learned a great deal and developed new things. The exercise helped them to see the whole picture and provided space for new ideas.
Time is needed to process the results
When providing feedback to the Valio management, the team described the path as a very effective technique. It offered a method of innovation leadership that works as such and also provided individual tools for different phases of the process.
The team shared the opinion that it was initially difficult to deal with the issues and seemed hard to find ideas. However, their thinking developed during the process and the participants noticed that they were thinking in a much broader and more diverse way at the end of the course.
One example of the development that took place is the fact that the first versions were quite abstract while concrete proposals were produced at the end of the process. The last proposal also contained the greatest number of completely new ideas.
The group felt that a path-type innovation process was effective because the entire group clearly progressed in terms of working style and thinking during the course. Working together played a key role, but working individually was also considered valuable because many ideas were clarified during that part of the process.
The fact that the course lasted for several days was also seen as an important factor since time is needed to process new ideas.
Many participants indicated that arranging the course over a period of several weeks increased its effectiveness, because a fast-paced course wouldn’t have provided the time required for processing.
On the other hand, some feedback suggested that a one-week intensive course could also be useful, because many people only needed a single night to organise and clarify their thoughts.
All in all, the Valio group believes that it is most important to give the group enough time and the opportunity to focus on the course. In that case, the team and its work provide the best benefits for the entire company.