Moving beyond the “ten types” of innovation

Many innovators are familiar with the concept of the “ten types” of innovation developed by Doblin.  If you aren’t familiar with the model, it describes different potential outcomes for innovation, beyond “product” innovation.

Doblin’s ten types includes innovation outcomes based on channels, business models, services, customer experiences and other factors.

As a fan of the model, I return to it and reference it constantly, because far too many innovators narrow their focus and only create new product innovations, when markets and customers are clearly interested in much broader and more diverse innovations.

But as a fan of the ten types model I can also see some of its shortcomings, and one of those is its lack of “depth”.  The ten types model expands the perspective of innovation in terms of breadth – from a single outcome called “product” to a range or spectrum of offering types.  But the model lacks definition around “depth” – building a description of a platform or ecosystem of innovation. 

Paul Hobcraft and I have been exploring the idea of platform and ecosystem innovation for quite some time, and I think we may be in need of a new tool set or way of thinking that takes the two dimensional “ten types” model and extends it into a third dimension.  Where the “ten types” model expanded our thinking from products to a spectrum of outcomes, we need a new model – one that helps imagine, design and create innovative platforms and the accompanying ecosystems.

The genius of the ten types

Doblin’s insight when they created the “ten types” model was one of those “ah-ha” moments.  Without a model or nomeclature, innovators described and defined innovation, but almost always wound up at the same place – a new physical product.  Doblin realized that innovation was occurring in many different facets, and so defined these potential outcomes and by doing so created a mechanism to talk about different “types” of innovation, many of which were already occurring but weren’t often intentional or planned.  Innovations in business models, channels, customer experiences and so on were already happening, the model simply defined these options and gave us a framework.  Once you have the framework, however, it becomes easier to conceive and conduct innovation that anticipates a range of innovation outcomes.

While the “ten types” model hasn’t been fully realized or implemented by many companies, time and technology have rendered it a bit obsolete.  Not to say that the ten types aren’t important – they are – but increasingly platforms and ecosystems – the concept of “depth” in the model – are becoming far more important.  We can see this in a number of emerging companies and industries, especially in the so-called sharing economy where products like AirBnB, Uber and others are building platforms and spawning ecosystems, while leveraging the ten types model as well.  Other companies like Facebook and Amazon are also competing in the platform/ecosystem innovation game.

AirBnB as an example of a deepening depth in thinking

AirBnB is a platform.  It provides a means for people who are seeking shelter to match up with people who are willing to provide shelter in the form of a couch, a spare room or an entire house or apartment.  In creating AirBnB, the founders did acknowledge the value of the ten types.  They created a solution that touched on customer experience, on channel, on product and on value networks, all components of the ten types model.  But they’ve created depth by spawning an entire ecosystem.  On top of that platform reside hundreds of thousands of different dwellings, but also different experiences, different payment mechanisms, and one can believe different vacation or travel outcomes.

Beyond the offering, however, there’s still more “depth”.  Some observers will say that AirBnB has simply replicated the hotel model, doing what Marriott or Hilton had done. But this observation misses the point that many new participants entered the platform and ecosystem.  Most of those dwellings are owned or rented by single individuals, not franchises or large corporations.  The more “open” platform created by Uber and AirBnB, the “sharing economy” if you will, allows people to participate when and where they want, as they want, gaining value from excess time or space.

What else can we “platform”?

If we can create platforms to share space or share rides, what else can be platformed?  Any industry where intangible skills are exchanged and people are willing to consume those skills based on the reviews of others is ripe for platforming.  One could imagine an AirBnB-like solution for ghostwriters, for lawyers, for doctors even.  This simply continues the idea of dis intermediating middlemen and conventions and opening up the exchange of information made possible by the internet and feedback from the crowd.

However, as a platform is conceived and designed, the platform developer must consider the value of the platform to the ecosystem that could develop.  Platforms are for exchanges between parties – the ecosystem will include the potential customers and providers, as well as those that can facilitate the interactions, provide information, extend or guarantee the offering and those that will contribute content about the platform and ecosystem.  Innovators must decide when and if to consider building an platform and how to make the platform attractive to potential ecosystem participants.

The question that emerges beyond “what can we platform?” is: are their models or frameworks to follow that allow us to consider both the breadth of innovation offerings (ten types) and the potential depth of the solution that completely meets the need?  The answer, so far, is:  not really, but we can begin to imagine what it might look like.

Initial thoughts on a new “model”

People have been innovating and creating new products, services, channels and business models since the cavemen first ventured out from the cave.  To a certain extent, models describe things that are already occurring and allow us to approach the solutions with greater formality and intent.  The “ten types” model simply codified what Doblin observed happening with its clients.

We can begin to observe what’s happening in the platform and ecosystem world, and start to define some initial models or hints of what a model might include.  Platforms are inclusive, virtual markets where customers and providers can meet and exchange goods and services with exceptionally low friction, often with little regulation, ease of information exchange and payment exchange.  Additionally, beyond the direct participants, other vendors or suppliers will aggregate to extend or offer other complementary services or products, or information.  These ecosystem players add value based on the network effect, and in many cases the value of their participation scales as the number of players scale.

This means that innovators must think in terms of products, platforms and inviting ecosystem players to create a truly lasting value proposition.  In many ways, the platform and ecosystem will become the product or offering, but we must envision it as a whole and determine which components to build, and which will be provided by those attracted to the platform.

One tool I am certain will be a major component of designing platforms and ecosystems is the customer journey map, because as we fully recognize and understand a customer’s journey finding and using our product or service, the more we are able to design platforms that integrate those discrete tasks into consolidated workflows and eventually seamless experiences.  The customer journey understanding gives us the potential for this depth, that opens up our thinking to platforms and ecosystems, as collaboration efforts and co-creation become critical to satisfy the needs of the journey.

I’ll be thinking about this and try to add some more attributes of a model for innovators to use to consider building not just products but platforms and ecosystems.  Join us if you will.


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