The Challenge

A major building materials manufacturer was looking to add new products and ideas to their development pipeline.

 A majority of the client’s innovation resources had become a casualty of the housing recession. Once it was clear the downturn had abated and the economy was steadily improving, the client desired to regain their status as an innovative leader in the building industry. 

 While reviewing the many options for a successful restart the client considered the following:

  • Should they use the existing model and rehire the resources or look at a variable capacity model?
  • How would they rapidly fill the pipeline with high quality and executable ideas?
  • How could they accelerate the innovation process and get ideas to flow from inception to commercialization?


In just over 90 days strategic changes were employed yielding significant results in identifying new networks and trade shows, as well as building new relationships that would result in a flood of unique ideas and opportunities.

 After the client conducted an initial internal audit, it quickly became apparent that resources were not available and many lacked the required skill sets to accomplish the company’s desired goals. Adding and indoctrinating new, permanent hires would be expensive and extremely time consuming. The best alternative for the client was to contract the specialized skill sets on an as-needed basis. An Innovation Scout with a diverse network and deep understanding of the construction industry could quickly and affordably fill the pipeline with ideas.

 We were contracted to help identify new technologies, advanced building techniques, and fresh strategic markets and channels that could be utilized by the client. In addition to developing a strategy for these topics, we were also tasked with the added challenge of completing the project at a fraction of the cost of conventional practices and with a timeline of months, not years.

 Our first step was to complete a company-wide assessment identifying their innovation capabilities, processes, resources and to also pinpoint any shortfalls. We then made recommendations on improving and accelerating their innovation pipeline. Lastly, we created a list of ideas that could produce quality, relevant ideas with a low acquisition cost.

The task of identifying new technologies placed an emphasis on “platform innovation” that was capable of yielding multiple avenues and solutions. Two key initiatives helped to springboard the client back into the innovation game.

  • Cast a Wide Net: We accomplished this by broadcasting an “innovation and collaboration” message to the client’s existing network. We then focused on expanding the client’s network, giving them exposure to different perspectives and allowing them to demonstrate their willingness to listen, learn and collaborate.
  • Pipeline Activation: The challenge of filling an almost non-existent product development pipeline was solved with new ideas sourced in creative and affordable ways. 

Deliverables and Impact

“Reverse Innovation” opened the door to new relationships and helped the client reach new strategic spaces in the marketplace.

 Most trade shows are designed as an opportunity for a company to sell products or services and are traditionally staffed by sales and/or marketing teams. “Reverse Innovation” shifts the purpose of a trade show from a sales-focused opportunity to “learning-focused” interactions.

 Instead of exhibiting standard product displays, we developed various prototypes (some real, some fake) to present to trade show attendees as conversation starters. The booth was then staffed with “good listeners” whose sole job was to engage in dialogue with visitors. Many attendees were not only potential customers but also represented a field of experts and advisors who could help uncover the basic needs in their respective industries. The “listener” was tasked with discovering what visitors liked or disliked about the prototypes as well as probing for problems and understanding their challenges. The overall response to this approach was overwhelmingly positive with the majority of participants leaving the booth feeling valuable and heard on issues that affect them.

 This alternative approach, on average, produced 50 new ideas or concepts per trade show. We leveraged technology such as Google Glass and Oculus Rift (3D immersion) to engage the attendees and it cost less than ten thousand dollars to produce. Traditional approaches to sourcing new ideas directly from market stakeholders (i.e. focus groups or special events) can cost between 5-10 times more. The client later estimated that the resulting ideas and concepts from the alternative approach had a combined commercialized market value of almost one billion dollars.

 Engaging networks beyond a company’s normal reach is often slow, awkward, and rarely produces tangible results. However, getting outside of the standard comfort zone is crucial to being an innovative organization.

 In a matter of days, the client reported making numerous personal connections with dozens of new contacts in these new markets. These connections resulted in the client joining key member organizations and actively seeking out roles on relevant committees and working groups. The impact was felt immediately.

  • An inventor with a patented idea was looking for a commercialization partner. We reviewed the patent, built prototypes, and conducted “Voice of the Customer” studies. After receiving feedback from potential customers we built a financial projection and presented the findings to the client’s senior staff.
  • A revolutionary new building concept was ready for scaling but the inventor struggled with resource constraints and market adoption. Working with our client’s existing products, we built a market development and launch plan that would achieve scale and demonstrate the benefit in the market.
  • A builder/inventor introduced an idea that would revolutionize the low-rise, multi-family construction space. Our client became involved to help scale production and we assisted in gaining the necessary regulatory approvals and building a solid market launch plan. This product is currently in the test market phase and is expected to achieve rapid market adoption.

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