How to use an innovation matrix to help you make choices

  • Design Thinking

Brainstorming is fun! We all know it. People come together and think big. The ideas flow and the future looks bright. However, at some point, the law of diminishing returns begins to creep in. Alas, having too many ideas with no good way to cull them is almost as bad as not having any at all (almost).

So, how might you go about finding the best options for tomorrow without forgetting the rest? How might you evaluate ideas at face value? What are the really promising ideas and options for your future?

This is where a handy tool, called the innovation matrix, comes in.

Categorize your ideas

We, humans are fantastic at categorizing things. We spend much of our professional lives categorizing and sub-categorizing the work we do. When it comes to pairing down your wall of brainstormed ideas, a 2×2 matrix is a perfect tool to harness our innate ability to categorize.

The innovation matrix lays out rows delineating incremental and substantial changes, and columns delineating reducing cost and increasing revenues. You can certainly use your own decision criteria for the rows and columns. Whatever criteria you choose, make sure it has clear distinctions that will help you organize your ideas and select the ones to move into prototyping and validation.

Go big or go home

This tool is designed to separate the ideas that result in incremental, easy-to-accomplish changes from the ones that will make a big difference. For instance, an idea to reduce costs by mandating that everyone print double-sided pages is incremental and small. Sure, for a large company, this could certainly reduce operational costs. However, it is probably a change that can and should be implemented anyway. A big change will cause bigger shifts. These ideas will show up in the top quadrants of the matrix.

Using the matrix

To use the innovation matrix, pull your ideas off the wall or canvas and, as a team, discuss where each idea belongs on the matrix. Unless you’ve modified the canvas to represent your own axes, the discussions you have at this point are not about feasibility or even viability. They’re about the potential for change. Is it an incremental change, one that your company could take on with little work or resources? That idea should probably placed in the bottom half of the matrix. Is it an idea for generating more revenue? The right half is where that one belongs.

Think bigger

As is often the case in larger, more established organizations, when you find people sticking to small, incremental ideas on the bottom half of the matrix, you’ll need to find ways, such as fire starter questions or an “into space” exercise, to push the boundaries and get people thinking bigger.

Innovation Matrix


Low-hanging fruit

There could be low-hanging fruit in any one of the quadrants that represent quick wins. When the matrix is completely filled up, you might even distribute these to people who can take them further. But the ones on the top make the biggest changes.

Ready.. set.. go!

As with any tool, the innovation matrix is only as valuable as what you put into it and take out of it. Having said that, while there are many tools out there that will help you create or refine ideas, there aren’t many like this one, which is all about making choices. The key, of course, is that when you do use something like the innovation matrix to help you make choices, you do so deliberately. The next step in your innovation journey will probably be prototyping and validation. Hence, you’ll want to set yourself (and your team) up for success in knowing you’ve made the right choice(s) to move forward with.

So, what’s on your wall?

Learn to work with these tools in one of our trainings or events.


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