When I started to research this idea, the first internet search hits had to do with banks and finance. But that was not what I was thinking of.

One company is Elrha, which works with non-profits. They like to talk about Resources, Scaling Strategy, Evidence of Impact, Execution, and Purpose. Once those are evaluated, then one can talk about “Sustainable Impact at Scale.” (1) Their work is devoted to improving humanitarian projects around the world. They wrote about stress testing ideas intended to be implemented in foreign countries with their own sets of challenges. That was still not what I had in mind.

In short, nothing on the internet was getting at the idea behind this piece. There are at least two perspectives to consider here. The first is stress testing innovation as it is developing, and the other is more like assessing impact after the innovation was implemented.

The first can be considered in terms of a metaphor which is also a real-world example. You are given the task of identifying which of a couple dozen mammalian cells would be the best one to produce the company’s up and coming billion dollar antibody. OK, you successfully transfected 24 cell lines, but only one can be selected as the clone for full scale commercial production. So, these cells have to be subjected to a battery of tests that range from stability, and productivity, to viability and mechanical strength under shear conditions. You can think of each cell line as a different innovation. Slight genetic variations, and other features determine some of the differences.

The question becomes: How many companies subject their innovations to a disciplined process of evaluation in order to pick the one that will most likely succeed. Or is the process more informal than that? Managers apply some gut instincts, some feel, for each of the innovations and decide, based on their years of experience which innovation has the best chance of success. Maybe in some cases, a focus group was used in an effort to anticipate customer reactions. It is worth noting that was never done for the SUV design, but that was a very successful innovation.

Where a company can afford to do it, a follow-up evaluation for different projects and products is another form of stress testing innovation. What worked? What didn’t? What were the differences in their impacts on the marketplace? It is a reasonable supposition to suggest that some innovations cannot be assessed in a useful way until they are put into the marketplace. Beta testing of software is one model for this approach. Yes, test marketing of innovations is done all the time. But not all innovations are the same. Slow initial acceptance is not a predictor for failure, nor is rapid early acceptance a predictor for success.

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