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Last Friday, I had the privilege of visiting a medium-sized, family-run company in The Netherlands. I am sure there are lots of medium-sized, family-run companies in that country, so why visit this one, especially as they “only” make concrete?

The reason was simple. The company had been identified in some benchmarking research we carried out to have an excellent track record in the murky and challenging world of Front End Innovation!

How come?

Simple really (aren’t all the best solutions)

They recognised their market was stagnating, orders were drying up and they were in a price war as their product became more and more commoditised – a classic red ocean scenario.

The senior management recognised the problem and wanted to find a way of ensuring a 5th generation of the family would inherit the business – there was a problem and they created a sense of urgency.

The business leaders created a cross-functional, dedicated team of 10 people and asked them to work on this innovation project for up to three days a week for 6 months. They ensured the managers of those people had support to do “the day job” when their teams were absent.

They identified a simple, repeatable and sustainable process to generate new ideas and business cases for them. This is called The FORTH Innovation Method.

The senior management communicated and communicated again why they were doing this and why those not involved in the innovation project were being asked to work a little harder to cover for their colleagues.

And what came from all this effort?


964 ideas

15 business cases

4 ideas were taken forward to development

1 of those ideas is now an innovation and is delivering cash into the business

the other three are on track to launch over the next three years.

What now?

There are now 60 people in the company involved in the innovation projects.

The marketing manager is now the innovation manager and is transferring those innovation skills from the FORTH methodology to the rest of the business.

The company is expanding and seeking to recruit 25 more people to work on the new business cases – how much more can we get to market?

And finally, the company now has a clear idea creation process, using FORTH and more importantly, a route ahead for that 5th generation to follow and the company is growing and not just struggling to survive.

By Sean M Warren BSc

Sean has worked with global organisations to help them embed sustainable innovation systems in their businesses by building best-in-class process, drawn from global benchmarking activities.