The biggest challenge I see in most organizations is using the wrong mindset to explore and exploit their opportunities. Innovation isn’t possible within the constraints organizations put on their employees, which is why a thorough understanding of the Innovation Lifecycle is paramount to mastering innovation within your own organization.

The Innovation Lifecycle can be described using a simple metaphor. In fact, understanding it is as easy as riding a bike!

The cycle includes four distinct phases: discovery, incubation, acceleration, and scaling. Each phase is symbolized with a bike equipped for certain terrain.

Why a bike? Well, just as you must use a bike built for a certain type of ride, so too must you use a certain mindset for a each phase of the Innovation Lifecycle.

Let’s take a deeper look at how this breaks down.

chris wasden innovation lifecycle - mountain bike

Discovery: The Mountain Bike

Mountain bikes require constant focus, or mindfulness, on the task at hand. They’re built to minimize risk from failure for a very risky environment, with big shocks and large tread tires that specialize in grabbing unstable terrain. Their heavy frame endure the abuse that come from steep hills and descents, while their powerful disk brakes allows the biker to stop on a dime on a steep slope.
Mountain biking itself is a highly technical task that requires constant vigilance and concentration; mindlessness is never an option. Thus, a mountain bike is a perfect parallel to the discovery phase of the Innovation Lifecycle, where failure is a constant companion, mindfulness is necessary, and the terrain requires frequent, drastic changes.

During the discovery phase of the Innovation Lifecycle, people are exploring the unknown. Great ideas come at great risks, just as a great ride on unknown, rocky terrain is not without its dangers.

chris wasden innovation lifecycle - hybrid bike

Incubation: The Hybrid Bike

Hybrid bikes combine elements of both a road bike and a mountain bike, and are built for riders who may not know what lies on the ride ahead and how they will need to respond. The bikes are suitable for gentle trails, but wouldn’t excel on a purely road ride, nor on a mountain trail.

A hybrid bike mirrors the incubation phase of the Innovation Lifecycle because it requires more mindfulness than road bikes (or acceleration), but not as much as mountain biking (or discovery). There are more hazards during this phase than the acceleration phase, as innovative ideas are incubated to decrease their technical risk through prototypes and pilots toward acceleration, but there are still less risks than the discovery phase, because these concepts seem to be feasible based upon the assessments done in discovery.

chris wasden innovation lifecycle - road bike

Acceleration: The Road Bike

Once an idea is formed and the technical risk is removed, it’s time to find the business model that will ensure commercial success; this is the focus on acceleration. The road bike best represents this stage of the Innovation Lifecycle; it’s sleek, aerodynamic, built for speed, and allows for many different hand positions to avoid fatigue on long, monotonous rides.

During the acceleration phase, the terrain is much more predictable so your mind can explore alternative paths to commercial success, rather than focus on whether or not your innovation makes sense or can technically work. This phase prepares you for the final phase of operational excellence.

chris wasden innovation lifecycle - stationary bike

Scaling: The Stationary Bike

The biggest challenge when riding a stationary bike is finding something to engage your mind; these are the ultimate mindless machines. Built with metal disks instead of wheels and tension knobs instead of gears, stationary bikes are built solely for efficient exercise. In other words, they work with Lean Six Sigma precision and results.

The stationary bike is a prime symbol of scaling. It’s efficient, risk-free, and reliable. It works the same for everyone, which is exactly why it’s essential for scaling innovative ideas. The scaling phase on the Innovation Lifecycle is all about taking an innovative idea and implementing (or scaling) it across an organization and market. In order to execute this phase, the innovator must use Lean Six Sigma processes, which focus on precision and easy operation no matter the operator – just like the stationary bike, and ensure less than three failures in 1 million attempts.

What’s next?

The Innovation Lifecycle takes an innovator through four different phases of growth, each with its own symbolic bike that is built specifically for the terrain and challenges the innovator will encounter. Without the specific bike, innovation (or the bike ride) comes to a standstill, and mindless failure runs rampant creating innovation fatigue.

Now that you’ve mastered the ride through the Innovation Lifecycle, learn which famous innovator you closely resemble. Take the Innovation Capability and Capacity Baseline and find out!