Innovation Q+A

Bill Hill, Invetech Director

The Secret to Turning Great Ideas in to Iconic Products


23 February 2011

In a desire to develop the next market leading product, more and more companies are turning to approaches like open innovation and structured ideation to come up with the winning idea. Unfortunately, many of the bright ideas generated from these approaches never end up in the market.

We talk with Bill Hill, a Director at Invetech, about how you can increase your chances of turning a great idea in to an iconic product.


Q. Bill, what is the secret to developing breakthrough products?

A. To make innovation work you need to look at the whole journey. What seems like a great idea can often be impractical. If a company separates the front end of innovation too far from the back end implementation you will end up with an impressive CAD sketch of a product and a beautiful packaging design.

The world is full of what look like good ideas, but they are not necessarily commercially successful ideas. Two simple questions I like to ask are, 'How are you going to make it? And how are you going to make money out of the idea?" People don't ask these questions enough. They bring clarity to the question of whether it really is a good idea and forces you to address the technical and commercial risk of your idea.

I see many companies who specialize in front-end innovation fall down because they fail to address the technical and commercial risk of an idea. By failing to address the big challenges right up front, they are often left with a product concept that has no 'practical' future.

You really want to manage and direct the process bringing in the right people and not leaving that to chance. You also want to time constrain the process because speed to market is critical. I don't believe that more ideas always lead to better ideas.

Q. Concepts like 'open innovation and 'crowd sourcing' get thrown around a lot these days. Do they have merit?

A. It depends on what you mean by these terms. I see some issues with aspects of open innovation, like crowd sourcing, when trying to develop practical concept ideas. For example, you don't want to leave the task of idea generation to the person that happens to have the most time on their hands. You really want to manage and direct the process bringing in the right people and not leaving that to chance. You also want to time constrain the process because speed to market is critical. I don't believe that more ideas always lead to better ideas.

Q. What processes do you use to develop new products and how do you inject technical thinking in to the innovation process?

A. Invetech continues to successfully use a 6 stage structured ideation process for a lot of its product challenges. It's a proven process to reliably develop working product concepts. We apply technical thinking by ensuring we include people with a range of skills, experience and approaches from the very beginning of the process. This could include any number and type of engineers, biologists, physicists, scientists, materials experts as well as marketers and designers etc.

In addition to the structured ideation process we also use a technique called 'innovation sprints', which is a concept borrowed from the 'agile' school of engineering. Sprints allow us to very quickly confirm the technical feasibility of an approach, which can result in a much earlier product release in to the market.

Q. Your final words of advice when it comes to turning great ideas in to iconic products?

A. If your brief is to just develop a range of ideas then you can satisfy that without worrying about the practicality of producing a real product. But if your brief is to produce a game-changing success story then you need to think end-to-end and that means thinking both creatively and technically early in the process.
You need to have the right people and processes that enable you to address both the commercial and technical risks.

This is the secret to developing ideas that are both inspiring and realistic.


Invetech has helped companies around the world develop some of the most successful products on the market today. Some of the products they have helped develop, which have gone on to receive international recognition include:

Leica Bond-III, Leica Microsystems

  • 2011 Silver Medical Design Excellence Award, In Vitro Diagnostics

Coca-Cola Freestyle®

  • 2011 Gold Edison Innovation Award
  • 2011 FORBES Magazine Coolest Product of the Decade

3D Bioprinter, Organovo, Inc.

  • TIME Magazine 50 Best inventions of 2010
  • 2011 National Engineering Innovation Award
  • 2011 Victorian Engineering Excellence Award - Research & Development/Innovation

Berocca Twist 'N' Go, Bayer Australia

  • 2011 Product of the Year Award: Consumer Beverage category
  • 2010 Packaging Awards: SILVER Colorpak Innovation Award

PREVI™ Isola, LBT Innovation/bioMerieux

  • 2010 Gold Medical Design Excellence Award, In Vitro Diagnostics

TearLab™ Osmolarity System, TearLab Inc

  • 2009 Silver Medical Design Excellence Award, In Vitro Diagnostics