In the great ocean of innovation out there, how do you establish the best course to follow? There are more and more creative ideas out there, which makes it difficult to set the most promising apart from those that could lead an organisation astray. Roberto Verganti, professor of Leadership and Innovation at Politecnico di Milano recommends, in his Article in the prestigious HBR, using a powerful decision-making tool: criticism. Because when used constructively, criticism can reveal new points of view, and as a result, new ways of reaching corporate objectives.

Here are a few favourite excerpts.

Today’s challenge: finding new directions

Whether for products, services, processes, or business models, two levels of innovation are possible: improvements and new directions.

Improvements are novel solutions that better satisfy existing definitions of value. Whether incremental or radical, they address problems that are already widely recognized in the marketplace. Consider residential thermostats. Most companies in this business assume that their main value lies in enabling people to better control the temperature in their homes. Innovation has therefore focused on creating digital thermostats with novel features such as touchscreen displays with multiple menus, day-of-the-week schedules, different room settings, and programmable fans.

In contrast, new directions arise from reinterpreting the problems worth addressing. They redefine what customers value. In November 2011 Nest Labs came up with a brand-new value proposition for thermostats: to help people be comfortable in their homes without having to fuss with the temperature. Its founders understood that the complexity and unpredictability of family life in America had made it nearly impossible to program a thermostat with a regular schedule. In addition, they saw that the technology of sensors and mobile phones had matured to the point where temperatures could be set through simple interactions, which would appeal to people fed up with complicated interfaces.


The art of criticism

In order to find and exploit the opportunities made possible by big changes in technology or society, we need to explicitly question existing assumptions about what is good or valuable and what is not—and then, through reflection, come up with a new lens to examine innovation ideas. Such questioning and reflection characterize the art of criticism. […]
Criticism need not be negative; in this context it involves surfacing different perspectives, highlighting their contrasts, and synthesizing them into a bold new vision. This is a significant departure from the ideation processes of the past decade, which treat criticism as undesirable-something that stifles creativity. Whereas ideation suggests deferring judgment, the art of criticism innovates through judgment.

Read the full article of Roberto Verganti here.

Roberto Verganti is professor of Leadership and Innovation at Politecnico di Milano.