Don’t believe in alchemy

Liam image for web article
Image 1 of 1

Each member of the MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual experiences of innovation in the lead up to our Degree Show Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making. Here, Liam Buswell writes in support of prototype and iteration, believing that the early and continuous tests of trial and error allow us to learn and subsequently increase the speed of innovation.

The world has fallen in love with start-ups. They have become the “cool” thing to do with your life, and their founders are the rock stars of the millennial generation. However, founding (or indeed investing in) a million dollar start-up is easier said than done – despite what the blogosphere may lead you to believe – as most start-ups (~90%) ending up failing. I wanted to see how innovation management theories, specifically design thinking and lean start-up, could be deployed in the real world to help the development of new ventures.


In order to research this area, I participated in the design and launch of a London-based start-up accelerator for the retail and consumer sector. In particular, I designed and tested a start-up acceleration programme based around principles merging design thinking and lean start-up into a model called “lean design thinking” (Thoring & Müller, 2012). The aim was to test a framework that helped start-ups manage the numerous uncertainties they face when trying to deliver new products, new markets or customer values, and/or new business models.


Most people are quick to hang their hat on certain popular methods or approaches to innovation management; such as design thinking, lean start-up or business accelerator models – myself included. But the reality is that start-up success cannot be pre-determined: successful entrepreneurs and innovators have used a myriad of approaches to building their new ventures – often times in total contradiction to each other.


Nevertheless, as recognized by Peter Drucker, people like to work ‘within a structure’. Even if there is no perfect solution for success, entrepreneurs can benefit from having some structure around what they do. This is particularly the case in today’s digital era, where technology has created endless innovation possibilities, which in turn creates endless possible challenges for entrepreneurs to deal with in their quest to create and deliver innovation.


In such chaotic circumstances, some form of structure can help entrepreneurs to address the different uncertainties they face in a consistent and logical manner, making the process manageable from both a practical and emotional perspective.


My advice to companies:

  • Understand that innovation success cannot be pre-determined and that there is no silver bullet for achieving it.
  • Test everything all the time to see what works and what doesn’t – until you test it, there is no way of knowing what may happen – answering this quickly will reduce uncertainty (and therefore risk) around innovation projects.
  • Provide a suitable structure to support innovators in this process.
  • Remain flexible and agile at all times, as circumstance may change (in fact, they definitely will!).


Thoring, K. & Müller, R. M. (2012) Design Thinking vs. Lean Startup: A comparison of two user-driven innovation strategies. International Design Management Research Conference 8-9 August. Boston, MA, USA.


To learn more about lean design thinking and Liam’s research please join us at the upcoming MA Innovation Management Degree Show Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making from 18-22 June.