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Four Lenses and Ten Types of Innovation

December 18, 2013


In a post entitled Innovation Variety: Doblin’s Ten Types of Innovation, I discussed the ten types of innovation identified by Larry Keeley, Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn, and Helen Walters in their book entitled Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs. They break down their ten types of innovation into four categories: Finance; Process; Offerings; and Delivery. I like the approach because I believe that innovation often emerges when you look at a challenge from different perspectives. Their framework forces companies to look for potential innovations using four different lens and ten smaller perspectives. More recently, I came across another framework — “The Four Lenses” framework developed by Rowan Gibson. Stefan Lindegaard writes, “The more I learn about the Four Lenses of Innovation concept … the more impressed I get.” [“The Four Lenses of Innovation – A Great Concept!15inno, 15 November 2013] Like me, Lindegaard reports that he “had not heard much about the concept and Gibson until recently even though this is not a new model for innovation.” Lindegaard adds, “It has been battle-tested in the real world for many years by a great list of companies.” He goes on to provide “a short overview of the Four Lenses of Innovation.” They are:

1. Challenging Orthodoxies: Questioning deeply-held dogmas inside a company and inside an industry about what drives success.

2. Harnessing Trends: Spotting patterns of change, which could substantially change the rules of the game.

3. Leveraging Resources: Thinking of a company as a portfolio of skills and assets rather as a provider of products and services for specific markets.

4. Understanding Needs: Learning to live inside the customer’s skin, empathizing with unarticulated feelings and identifying unmet needs.

The following 3-minute video provides a fuller explanation of the Four Lenses discussed by Rowan Gibson himself.



If you don’t have time to watch the video, below are Gibson’s brief descriptions of his Four Lenses. [“Innovation’s four lenses,” imaginatik]

“CHALLENGING ORTHODOXIES — Radical innovators are, almost by definition, contrarians. They take conventional thinking and turn it completely on its head. … Exploring and challenging orthodoxies – overturning conventional beliefs about what drives success in your company and your industry – is a key way to surface opportunities for profitable growth. It’s a lens that allows you to see new industry rules, new structures, new offerings and new competitive space.

“HARNESSING TRENDS — Radical innovators are not forecasters or scenario planners. They are not trying to predict the future or imagine how the world might be 10 years from now. Instead, they tend to be people who are aware – at some deep level – of things that are already fundamentally changing, and who understand the revolutionary portent in those things, in ways that others do not. … So forget about grand corporate visions of the future. Instead, focus on identifying changes underway in the external environment that your competitors have either underestimated or ignored. Then try to understand how the momentum of these changes can be influenced – or amplified – to drastically alter the current rules of competition and create new growth opportunities.

“LEVERAGING RESOURCES — Radical innovators tend to view their companies not as business units or organization charts, but as portfolios of competencies and strategic assets. They have the ability to decouple particular skills and assets from the existing business model, and then leverage these resources in their own right to generate growth opportunities. … To discover opportunities like these, you need to stop looking at your company as a provider of specific products or services for specific markets, and start viewing it as a reservoir of competencies and assets that can be leveraged in different ways (or different contexts) to create new value.

“UNDERSTANDING NEEDS — Radical innovators are deeply empathetic; they understand – and feel – the unvoiced needs of customers. They recognize needs that customers don’t even know they have yet. Or they solve some common frustration in a way that people could never have imagined. … Try to uncover some of these unsolved problems, unvoiced needs and market inefficiencies. Learn to live inside the customer’s skin, empathizing with unarticulated feelings and identifying unmet needs.”

Gibson is obviously a true believer in his Four Lenses concept; but, he doesn’t simply dismiss other paths to innovation. “Clearly, intuition and creative ingenuity – as well as serendipity – are part of the innovation equation,” he writes. One thing that Keeley, Pikkel, Quinn, and Walters have in common with Gibson (and many other creativity gurus) is that they dismiss the myth of the lone genius. Keeley, Pikkel, Quinn, and Walters claim that their “approach makes it easier to create breakthroughs. Indeed, the rule of thumb is that any team that uses five or more types when it innovates can produce game-changing innovations that amaze customers and confound competitors.” Gibson makes similar claims about his Four Lenses framework. “Innovation has less to do with increasing personal creativity – long the accepted wisdom,” he writes, “and more to do with using the right ‘lenses’ to provoke a business breakthrough. Instead of simply leaving innovation to chance, or trying to grab ideas out of the air, you and your company can systematically generate game-changing opportunities by developing the mind of the innovator.”


Since both approaches make similar claims, I thought it would be interesting to see how the two approaches could be used together. As a result, I put together the following chart to demonstrate how one might go about using such a hybrid framework.



The hybrid system I created basically works by discussing what one might find inside the boxes created by the intersection of the Ten Types of Innovations and Four Lenses to see what emerges. Such an approach obviously expands the number of perspectives used to approach any challenge. Frankly, I’m not sure how well it would work; but, I suspect that some interesting results would emerge. Since both approaches claim to lead to game-changing innovations, combining them is unlikely to cancel out any of the benefits associated with the different approaches. Take for example, the box created at the intersection of “Product System” and “Harnessing Trends.” A company could look at its current product line and ask how it could be improved if it were to incorporate trends such as mobile technology, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and Big Data analytics. That might make for an interesting discussion. Lindegaard concludes, “The Four Lenses of Innovation is definitely a concept that corporate innovation teams should look into.” I could say the same thing about the Doblin approach. That’s why Innovation teams might want to try both approaches — either separately or, as I suggest, together.

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