Written by Gijs Van Wulfen, founder of the FORTH Innovation Method

In 2017, the Elastomers Business Unit of Huntsman Polyurethanes decided to increase the number of breakthrough innovations to balance its project portfolio. The goal was twofold: to create sustainable high-value businesses, as well as to deploy an innovation and learning culture.

Huntsman assessed seven front-end innovation service providers and chose the FORTH innovation method for the following reasons:

  1. It is a fixed-duration method: large corporations are often nervous about never-ending innovation projects, but FORTH Innovation Method delivers business cases ready to enter the development funnel after six months.
  2. It is clear and easily communicated: five logical steps and 15 workshops with well-defined deliverables.
  3. It provides breakthrough innovation opportunities: not only for the innovation of products but also for services, processes, business models etc.
  4. It works across cultures, which is critical for a global corporation like Huntsman. It is like “organized chaos”: creative cultures like its structure, whilst more conservative cultures like its chaos.
  5. FORTH Innovation Method significantly strengthens the innovation culture: it includes participants from all functions who become ambassadors for the innovation culture. It emphasizes that innovation is not the sole responsibility of the technical community.
  6. Last but not least, participants learn by doing: FORTH Innovation Methodteam includes participants who do not have an innovation background. FORTH includes training to build skills during the process, such as listening and questioning skills.

What is the FORTH innovation method? Similar to Design Thinking but with a twist!

FORTH Innovation Method is an acronym for the five-step process:

  1. Full Steam Ahead: scope innovation assignment, select team and plan an expedition.
  2. Observe & Learn: gather new insights by exploring innovation opportunities and uncovering customer frictions.
  3. Raise Ideas: generate ideas and convert the best ones as idea direction, which collectively are improved and transformed into concepts with clear customer friction.
  4. Test Ideas: improve concepts by testing them directly with the market.
  5. Homecoming: convert the best concepts into business cases.

It takes more than brainstorming to get breakthrough ideas. Observe & Learn, the second step in FORTH Innovation Method mandates that team members speak to customers all along the value chain about innovation opportunities and frictions. Simply put, there are no novel ideas without fresh insight. It is similar to the design thinking process, which is by design as it was a method I had studied.

FORTH Innovation Method

Softer components are key to success at the front-end of innovation

One must pick the right time, that is when there is a sense of urgency, but this is not enough. Broad buy-in is paramount, thus it is critical to gain top leadership approval (VP and Director level). Top leaders, including VPs, must participate to the key workshops to avoid “not-invented-here” syndrome. Visionary leadership is fundamental to allow team members to devote 20% of their time to innovation. A diverse team is essential with diversity in functions, age, personalities, mindsets, as several workshops make use of collective intelligence to comprehend issues from 360 degrees.

Huntsman tuned FORTH Innovation Method to fit its global organization

After six months and eight innovation events, mobilizing a team from seven different countries over three continents, the FORTH Innovation Method team delivered six businesses cases. Four of these were selected by the Governance Board to be pursued.

Following this successful pilot, Huntsman has decided to replicate FORTH Innovation Method in APAC in 2019 and in the USA within two years. The FORTH innovation method has become Huntsman’s front-end-innovation method to create market-validated opportunities and is now an integral part of its strategy process.