In The Learning Layer , the concept of reversing the idea funnel is discussed in depth. Traditional innovation processes take many ideas, and through elimination, narrow these down to a few. Flipping the funnel reverses this by breaking ideas into capability components and building on them.
Most business ideas are a bundle of two or more of our capability components [tangible & intangible assets – technologies, processes, people, IP, relationships]. For example, even if a business idea is based on a technological breakthrough, the overall opportunity is likely to also include other differentiating components, such as processes (say, a specific marketing process). It is the uniqueness of the bundle of components that provides the economic value-creating potential of the idea, and the ability to defy the easy copying by other marketplace participants that leads to rapid value collapse.
This is what effective innovators do, says author Steve Flinn – “They break things down into their essential features, and then try to visualize the effect of different combinations, orientations, and application approaches.”
One of my current projects is working on knowledge transfer, such as the commercialization of research, at Mount Allison University. I’m still learning how this happens here and at other universities, but for the most part, it seems to be a traditional funnel. However, this type of funnel can also be flipped.
Embedding the flipping-the-funnel process within the learning layer is a powerful, contemporary approach to the management of innovation and R&D. But there are other related learning layer opportunities that should not be overlooked. For example, technology transfer processes. Here the idea is to enable third parties to leverage inventions and developments that are developed by other organizations, whether private or public. As mentioned previously, extending the learning layer across organizations is an ideal way to generate creative synergy. And the flipping-the-funnel approach can be adapted, and coupled with the cross-organizational learning layer, to enable more collaborative and valuable technology transfers.
One example of cross-pollination in technology transfer is Futurity.org, which aggregates research findings from all AAU universities.
The ability to even conceive of a learning layer is due to our advances in network communication technologies. This has caused the explosion in web social media and user-generated content. While looking for a picture to illustrate this post, I came across the image below on Flickr, an image sharing service. The image was linked to a blog post that asks if the prevalence of social media require us to re-think the lead generation funnel. It seems that network effects have flipped some of our older industrial models.