Four approaches to innovation – New ideas at the cutting edge

Agile methods for improved innovations

Innovation Aug 5, 2021

We cannot imagine a world without innovation. Development has always been the driving force behind our lives, our history and our research. And today, more than ever, it is also a decisive competitive factor for companies. After all, it is essential to implement sustainability and digitalization – in the shortest possible time.

But what exactly are innovations? And how can they be developed strategically? We’ve put together the four most popular methods.

What does innovation mean?

Whether design thinking, crowdsourcing or hackathons, modern innovation management has many creative methods at its disposal. Maria Doskas, Digital Communications Manager at Henkel, is very familiar with these techniques. “Innovation is often equated with an invention, a new idea. But it is more than just that,” she explains. It is also about the path to innovation: “Behind every good innovation, there is always an extraordinary pattern of thought that leads to the formulation of the idea.” And the added value for society is just as important. “Invention alone is not enough – a novel concept must also stand the test of time and benefit society.” This aspect is important for companies like Henkel.

Maria Doskas


Invention alone is not enough – a novel concept must also stand the test of time and benefit society.

In order to remain competitive and fit for the future, Henkel is taking a strategic approach to innovation. Alongside sustainability and digitalization, innovation is a crucial pillar of the growth agenda. “Innovation is nothing new,” explains Maria, “but globalization and digitalization are speeding things up. The demand for new ideas is constantly growing.” Agile innovation methods such as future thinking bring the spirit of innovation to the company. Maria presents four modern methods for innovation and explains where they are best utilized:

Using the right innovation method

1. Design Thinking

Design Thinking

“The focus of design thinking is on the needs of the end user. You empathize with them, put yourself in their shoes, and then invent.” This is how Maria explains the idea behind the Design Thinking process. The method was developed in the 1990s by the design agency IDEO and consists of four phases: (1) understanding the problem, (2) defining the problem, (3) developing solutions and (4) solving the problem. “What sets Design Thinking apart is agility,” says Maria. “During the innovation process, you jump between phases, always factoring in the users.” The first two innovation phases involve a diverse, open thought process, where many ideas and options are gathered. The problem is then fleshed out and focused. At this point, convergent linear thinking comes into play, helping to select unique ideas from the collection of options and transform them into solutions.

2. Future Thinking

Future Thinking

This involves drawing up various future scenarios to anticipate future trends, which opens up new perspectives and action areas for strategic decisions. “It is often difficult for us to imagine what certain aspects of our lives will look like in the future. But this is exactly what Future Thinking is all about," Maria explains. The focus is on current technological and social developments. “Future Thinking is not just thinking methodically about the future, but is also the path toward a way of thinking about the future.” The key questions are: What will the future in which these companies exist look like? What would we ideally want to achieve in ten years?  “In contrast to Design Thinking, this thought process does not focus initial ideas – it expands them. You can be inspired in several ways without cutting the creative process short prematurely,” Maria explains. Future Thinking can be an ideal starting point for Design Thinking.

3. Crowdsourcing


When Maria talks about crowdsourcing, she is also talking about the “intelligence of the masses”. The term is a combination of “crowd” and “outsourcing”. Crowdsourcing includes the outside world in the innovation process. “At Henkel,” says Maria, “we use this innovation method to obtain creative input from external sources as well as internal sources.” This is the idea behind the Henkel Co-Creation Hub, a joint initiative of Henkel and innovation platform jovoto. Co-creation is about creative collaboration and involves not only the active participation of external global talents, but also of Henkel employees who help to improve or reinvent products, services and processes.

4. Hackathons


The name “hackathon” is composed of the verb “hack” and the word “marathon”. As the name suggests, a hackathon is an event where solutions to problems are developed over a short period of time. “The first hackathons were held by software developers,” says Maria. But today, this method of innovation can be found in various fields – from urban planning to the German government's hackathon on tackling the coronavirus. Henkel also uses this method: Since 2019, an idea hackathon for female entrepreneurs, the "Henkel Xathon", has been held once a year. “The participants gather in small groups and develop an innovative product or business model,” Maria explains. “The sense of community and the spirit of the event make hackathons an extraordinary method of innovation.”

Finally, Maria has a tip on how anyone can integrate the spirit of innovation into their everyday life: be curious. “Take a moment to think like a child again and question the deeper meaning of it all. Try it for yourself!”

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A man in a lab coat with Henkel logo standing in a lab next to a microscope

Anyone who successfully manages brands over generations needs the right balance of tradition and innovation. By understanding change, we can shape the future. This is also reflected in Henkel's corporate purpose: “Pioneers at heart for the good of generations”.