December 17, 2020

Innovation thesis: How to define a focused innovation strategy - pt.1


Designing an innovation strategy can be as daunting as climbing a steep rock wall. If done without preparation, you will find yourself facing the wall, not knowing where to start, or how to decide where you will invest your limited resources. And even if you planned carefully upfront, you’ll find it difficult to see the top at times.

So unsurprisingly, chances are you decide to go down when you encounter a roadblock. Same thing goes for doing innovation as part of business as usual. The end of quarter is near. Channeling your remaining resources to the core business seems the safest choice. In this article, we will discuss how to get started using the innovation thesis.

I have recently watched a documentary where professional rock climber Alex Honnold achieved the astonishing deed of free solo climbing a 900-meter vertical rock at Yosemite National Park. The views are humbling and breathtaking, literally.

For some, this climb was considered an act of sheer luck complemented with an unusual appetite for risk. To others, this represented an exquisite example of planning and execution capabilities. I tend to agree with the latter.

In order to reach the top, Alex Honnold carefully planned his climb. He analyzed the rock wall from top to bottom looking for the key surfaces to support himself on. He measured weather conditions such as wind and rain which could jeopardize his performance. Also, he practiced ceaselessly the climb with rope iterating his path until he found one that he was comfortable with.

I think you’re starting to understand where I am going with this analogy, right? With the right tools and systems in place, you increase the chances of success; Same goes for your corporate innovation strategy. Let’s cover some of these tools throughout this article.

Ready to reach the top?

Planning your Strategy? Use “The Innovation Thesis”!

If you are starting to plan your innovation strategy, start by defining your innovation thesis. As a  climber, you can think about it as an exercise of choosing the rocky mountain you wish to climb and analyze its surroundings, what gear you might need or what level of physical preparation it might entail.

Developing a solid innovation thesis is about evaluating your business. First you want to understand where you are now and where you want to be in the future. Second, you need to understand what is going on around you (trends, market changes, emerging technologies); define which problems you want to solve and what technologies are better suited to solve them.

Some of the questions you can go through include:

  • What are our current business models and core products?
  • Which products/services within our current business model are facing decline?
  • What are the sociological, political, technological, environmental or economical trends emerging?
  • Which new markets do we want to enter?
  • What are the emerging competitors in our market?

The Innovation Thesis Worksheet is a great tool to help you organize your answers to these and other questions. You can download it here

Going through this process will help you decide what projects and technologies to invest in and what projects to pass on. It will also give you a simple narrative that can be shared across the organization from board-level executives to mid-management and employees so that everyone inside the company has a clear view of the high-level innovation strategy. This is especially important when you want to engage with other departments to collaborate on innovation initiatives/projects. Finally, being specific about what you want to accomplish also makes it easier to measure whether you have succeeded or failed.

The innovation thesis is composed of three parts: the statement, the antithesis, and the thesis. This exercise should fit on one A4 page - not more.


The statement should be a small paragraph explaining how you see the world and what your innovation ambitions are for the future.


Define what is outside your innovation scope:

  • We are not going to invest in problem spaces such as:
  • We are not going to invest in business models:
  • We are not going to invest in technologies:


Define what is inside your innovation scope:

  • We are going to invest in problem spaces such as:
  • We are going to invest in business models:
  • We are going to invest in technologies:

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