Choosing an innovation consultant is challenging for two reasons: the client is not always clear what type of innovation they want, or they are not sure what type of innovation a consultant offers. Here are three factors to consider when choosing an innovation consultant: 1. TYPE of consultant, 2. METHOD used, and 3. ROLE of the consultant.
The innovation space has become so crowded that I group them into four types (I-D-E-A):
INVENTION: These are consultants that help you create new-to-the-world ideas. They have a particular expertise in creativity methods or idea generation tools. Their main focus is generation of many new product or service ideas.
DESIGN: These are consultants that take an existing product, service, or idea and put some new, innovative form to it. They have a particular expertise in industrial design or human factors design. Their main focus is transforming the way a product is used or experienced.
ENGINEERING: These are consultants that help you make the new idea work in practice. They have a particular expertise in technology, science, research, and problem solving. Their main focus is building it.
ACTUALIZATION: These are consultants that help you get the innovation into the marketplace. They have a particular expertise in marketing processes, brand, or commercial launch of a product or service. Their main focus is selling it.
The challenge is many consultants claim to be all of these. While true for some, my sense is that all firms started off as one type and then expanded to cover the others. The question to ask yourself is: would you be better off matching your need to their original core expertise, or would you be better off going to a one-stop shop…a firm that can do it all even though their core expertise is, say, design. How do you know what type the firm really is? Study the biography of their founder. What was the founder’s education, experience, work background, interests, etc. The founder is where the core orientation of the firm begins. The other practice types get bolted on later.
Step Two is understanding their method. The first question I ask consultants is, “Do you know how to innovate?” The second question is, “How?” I want to understand their method of innovation, and I want to be able to explain it to other people. I want to know the efficacy. Has it worked in the past and will it work on my project? Show me the data.
Step Three is understanding the role of the innovation consultant. Is this a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach where you are given some software or other resource to create innovation on your own? Is this a DIWY (do-it-with-you) approach where the consultant leads and facilitates groups of your employees to innovate together? Is this a DIFY (do-it-for-you) approach where the consultant takes your problem specification and comes back with their recommended solutions? Or, is this training? All of these roles are valid depending your need.
I am impressed with the talent and variety of the consultants in the innovation space today. It becomes even more impressive when you select the right one for the job.