I came across an article recently in which author Gianfranco Zaccai claimed he has “never seen innovation come out of a focus group“. Indeed, he claims that focus groups “kill innovation”. Strong words!
I can understand where he’s coming from – creativity cannot be mandated or ordered. Is it even possible to “generate” innovative ideas? Or do they just emerge seemingly spontaneously in the right environment?
I’d also seriously question whether a focus group is a valuable tool with which to even try and generate innovative ideas. In a group setting a better tool to use would be a facilitated workshop – where the facilitator allows a free-flowing creative stage before the more pragmatic stage of discussion, evaluation and comparison kicks in.
Other methods used to foster innovation include the hiring of creative people, the openness of management to new ideas, the sincere solicitation of employees’ opinions, the carving out of thinking time and people being allowed to spend a proportion of their time on pursuing their own ideas. Indeed in a large company I once worked in there was a specific division of people who worked fulltime on “down the road” ideas – and their funding was ring-fenced separately to the more “pragmatic” product development division.
But I digress. Back to Mr. Zaccai. He has a point – but perhaps he’s overstating things when he says focus groups kill innovation. Granted they may not be the optimal tool to use. But if people can be made comfortable and if the moderator can provide people with a buffer from having their ideas immediately evaluated critically, then creative thinking can flow.