Dos and Don’ts of Breakthrough Innovation

A few weeks ago Forum for the Future launched Breakthrough Innovation: your guide to innovating for a brighter future, which I wrote with my colleague Zoe Le Grand. We brought together the experiences of our leading partners into a short guide for sustainability champions and innovation specialists to make it happen. The hypothesis: companies need breakthrough innovations to succeed; we all need those breakthroughs to help create a brighter future.

The guide has lots of nuggets on how you can make breakthrough innovation – a product or service to customers which both creates a new market or shifts an existing one and creates superior sustainability outcomes – happen. Here are some of the best, in a handy list of ten do’s and don’ts.


  • See issues of sustainability as an opportunity to grow your business. Unilever will sell more in developing markets by innovating new products that help improve hygiene and have a reduced impact on the environment.
  • Allocate resource to develop disruptive concepts. Otherwise your innovation portfolio will only have incremental improvements and competitors will grab the opportunity.
  • Understand innovation sometimes means ‘good’ failure – fast, cheap and with new insights for next time. If you only innovate when you know you will succeed, you will never innovate. You must be prepared to take risks and accept some failure will be inevitable.
  • Protect disruptive ideas from day-to-day requirements of the core business. Innovative companies ensure their ideas are nurtured and get a chance to succeed. Examples of this include a dedicated team, ring-fenced funds and internal competitions.
  • Ensure you have sustainability expertise within the development team. O2 Drive, which uses GPS technology to help drivers enhance fuel efficiency, was developed by people who understood the need to address climate change.



  • Ignore the warning signs that sustainability issues are affecting your business. Nike’s CEO says, “It is clear to us that our long-term potential, and the long-term potential of virtually every other major company in the world, will be severely pressured by rising energy costs and environmental concerns, increasingly scarce natural resources and intensifying demand for equal access to economic opportunity.”
  • Define your business so narrowly you go out of business. Kodak thought it was in the film business and killed the development of a digital camera. It went bankrupt.
  • Use financial KPIs of a mature business to measure early-stage concept progress. The size of the opportunity cannot be estimated by measuring growth early on. Instead look at your predictions to test if you are understanding the market better. Return on capital is an important measure – but later, for a mature business.
  • Assume you know everything already. You’ll need to step out of your day-to-day assumptions, and that needs external stimulus, insights and experience.
  • Delay. By the time your competitors are stealing your lunch it is too late. Sustainability issues will shape your business drivers for the coming decade, and you need to start now.


Tell us what you think using #breakthru_innov or download your copy of Breakthrough Innovation: your guide to innovating for a brighter future.

This post first appeared on the Forum website here.


One thought on “Dos and Don’ts of Breakthrough Innovation

  1. Pingback: Breakthrough Innovation slideshow | business and sustainability – a work-in-progress

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