Balanced Breakthroughs

Versions of the Balanced Breakthroughs framework have been around for a long time. (It may even date to the early 20th century—and we’ll footnote some of its early forms in the next edition.) Because it acts as a highly scalable model, we thought it was a great way to organize the next few chapters and the early part of the Naked Innovation process itself. It is useful enough that innovation teams can easily refer to it throughout the course of a project.

What seems to be working

  • The Balanced Breakthrough framework is widely used, and we think it’s one every innovation team should be familiar with.

Areas that need more work or input

  • Are we revealing the Balanced Breakthroughs framework at the right pace? We’re giving an overview here, with more detail revealed in the following chapters. Does it whet your appetite for the “double-click” to come? Would it be more clear if we provided a single, integrated example of how the three parts fit together?
  • We provided three questions to ask under each of the three Balanced Breakthroughs circles. Is that enough detail—and do these feel like the right set of questions?
  • Increasingly, we’re considering adding a fourth element: sustainability. Does that seem valuable enough to cover in the main text? In some ways, it is already covered with People but perhaps not considered enough. If not included formally, does it merit a sidebar discussion?
After you’ve read the chapter, please post your thoughts, constructive critique, and suggestions below. If you’ve already done so, take a look at Chapter 3–Innovation Intent 1.0–where we introduce a simple framework for getting started.
  • James Buchanan

    I guess it depends a little who the audience is. In terms of pacing, I think there’s a risk that this feels like a bit of a set up rather than delivering the goods.

    I wonder whether you couldn’t bring some of the tastier points forward. @ Zach – One of the things I remember (have stolen) from working with you is the way you think about the shape of the problem/opportunity. Is it best understood as a network? A single relationship? A connection between channels? Or is it a single moment of high emotion that needs to be resolved?

    I think this is important because your readers probably already have a fixed view of how to assess and visualise “desirability to people”. And there’s a risk they’re just thinking of a typical customer journey or traditional funnel. Flagging the importance of these other shapes and relationships could be a nice early statement.

    I also wonder whether you might want to land a punchy point about what “viability of business” might mean. I’m thinking specifically about examples of return on experience in terms of emotional connection and brand value, as well as improved conversion. It could be interesting and provocative to reference those nice adaptive path posts about the experience gap.

    Otherwise, love it. And really love the approach to beta testing a book.

    • zparadis

      Pacing is an important consideration for the entire book, given the intent of Naked Innovation is being that of a “primer”. In this way, we’re trying to set a consistently progressing yet not too fast pace. The framework is indeed the set up for chapters on understanding People, Technology on Business.

      I like the idea of pulling some tastier points forward. Maybe we’ll hint at them by introducing an example to explain the model. Maybe that would activate reader’s imagination while still providing the right pace. Let me know your thoughts on this possibility.

      • James Buchanan

        It’s a balance between giving enough to hook people but not quite so much that they’re satisfied.

        For me, a great strategy book helps me see familiar stories or examples in a new way and makes me feel like I can’t wait to read more.

        The best example I can think of is the Richard Rumelt book you gave me. Even in the introduction, when all he’s doing is explaining why he’s written the book, he hits you with the Stormin’ Norman gulf war story and you’re hooked. It makes it hard to put down.

        Now I’m going to be a bit cheeky… There’s a project that we’re both familiar with that failed on each of these three issues individually and, inevitably, jointly. I think you should use or hint at that. A good disaster like that should get anyone hooked :)

        It also occured to me that in the tech part you could refer to the hype curve. I saw an MIT lecture by Jack Schultz in which he said that Berg are most interested in technologies in the dip (cheap and boring). Might be a fun way for people to start thinking about tech.

  • Bruno

    I think it is good to introduce the Balanced Breakthroughs framework early. It should be one of the key elements people keep in mind wen moving forward.

    I feel each sets of 3 questions are very appropriate and help scope/define the 3 elements of the framework. I am a deep advocate of more examples, so I would be happy so see more of them here.

    About adding sustainability:
    The element missing (or not clear enough through current version), for each 3 (People, Business, Tech) is _time_ How does time affects those questions, the answers to those, … An innovation can be sustained through a long time, but it can also be short lived and a 1 shot as long as it can be done with limited investment, existing technology and guaranteed return.
    Therefore I would add time or sustainability, not as a 4th element, but as a key item for each 3 elements of the framework.

    One final comment would be about illustrating how those 3 aspects and sustainability (or time) can be balanced in successful way and showing some failures as well (where each element individually was research well but the balance was wrong)

    • David

      Hi Bruno,

      Can you help me better understand what you mean by time in the comment above? I can understand how timing is very important in People, Business, and Tech, but I think you’re talking about something different. As someone new to the design and innovation world, I’m having trouble grasping the concept.

      • Bruno

        Hi David,

        Let me try to give some examples, for each category, on how I would consider time in looking at each questions.

        Simply put, it is the balance between how long it take for one individual to be proficient in the required skills/technologies/… vs. the turn over, difficulty or hiring, …
        I personally experienced the situation in India, hiring people to work on smart card (a competence you only grown in house or hire from competition) during a time where 30+ % turn over and 30+ % yearly salary increases were quite common, making it impossible to run a team in a sustainable way.

        In evaluating the competition, some estimates have to de made on the speed the competition is moving. Are we skating where the ball/puck is, or where it is going to be when we get there?
        When evaluating a business model, one must take into account the price erosion of products, price changes (both up or down) of material, components, … which mean a business model might not be viable long enough to make it interesting enough

        No matter which way the technical capabilities are sourced ((in house, acquisition, licensing, …) there is a time component to it. For example, if the choice would be to acquire a company for it’s technology and competence I would raise the questions “How long will acquisition and integration take?”, “How long before we can integrate their technology into our product, platform, … ?”, “Are those time compatible with the business and people side we identified?”

        In short is the time component compatible with the balanced aspect or is it reinforcing the balance or throwing us out of balance?

        • David

          Thanks for taking the time to explain that, Bruno.
          I had never given much thought to the relationship between the time it takes to get up to speed and the long-term sustainability of a project or innovation. It makes a lot of sense now. Your examples were very helpful.

    • nacht

      Like this alot – time as a dimension of the three. I think what would really help would be to identify some of the extremes where people vastly outweighs business and tech – rinse repeat for the other 2.

      • zachary jean paradis

        This really is great feedback. Agreed with Bruno before but excited to see you agree, and like how you extended it.

      • Zachary Jean Paradis

        This really is awesome feedback. Agreed with Bruno before but excited to see you agree, and like how you extended it.

  • Chris Bernard

    There’s a common notion today that radical innovation is the only type of innovation that wins. Chapter 2 of Naked Innovation cites some interesting statistics that support an alternative view, one that says product or system success is as much about familiarity, timing and iteration as it is about good execution of a radical idea and it’s often the case that if you miscalculate on any of those that failure is a common outcome.

    There are numerous examples of fantastic thinking and great execution that are not rewarded by the market or recognized as innovative by the masses. Those market failures aren’t an indictment of good design or innovation, they just illustrate that it takes more than that. What the Balanced Breakthrough model attempts to do is put a set of repeatable patterns into a designer’s hands that looks at all the variables that often drive the success of new products and services.

    This idea is neatly summed up in Chapter 2 as “context is king” and once one understands that context is the starting point the tools and methods that can go beyond simple marketing research can be snapped into place to start deriving insights around desirability and the discovery of latent needs–or the things many people may indeed fall in love with but have no idea that they really desire or need them. Nobody ever asked for Uber, Airbnb, or Keurig. The inventors of those products and services had to manifest them through hard work and creative thinking. The Balanced Breakthrough model gives you the right patterns to start the innovation process poised for success.

    • Zachary Jean Paradis

      Glad you thought the idea is “neatly summed up”. I like the new examples you outlined: Uber, Airbnb, and Keurig. We’ll keep those in mind as we give the BB model another turn of refinement.

      Please don’t hesitate to weigh in with some Constructive criticism if you see any opportunities for improvement.