What the Hell is ‘Innovation’ Anyway?
Innovation. Disruption. Game Changing… Can we all just take a chill pill?
Innovation has become the biggest buzzword of them all lately. It is hardly surprising given the uncertainty of our world at the moment, the middle class and middle-men being replaced by global automation and technology. It seems if any of us want to keep our businesses and our jobs, then we better get busy innovating.
The problem is that most people equate innovation with a near impossible task. The word conjures up images of futuristic labs, creative geniuses and huge risks taken on revolutionary new products. Innovation, it turns out, is particularly tricky to define. We can’t help but wonder if this is part of the reason that Australia is ranked 17th in The Global Innovation Index.
Innovation is not as big a deal as you think
Thankfully, we have found that innovation is quite simple. It’s an improvement to your product, process or service that provides more value to your customer and in turn creates competitive advantage for you.
Nothing more, nothing less. It is an idea for improvement that, importantly, has been designed and executed.
Sounds easy, I know. Except for those pesky ideas… where do we find them? Is this the domain of the creative genius? No.
Solve a problem for your customer
So often features are added to products unnecessarily in the name of almighty innovation when really, the motivation is an arms race with a competitor. When this happens you have lost sight of the goal of innovation in the first place.
So where do we find ideas for improvement? By listening to your customers. By understanding the ‘job’ they hire your business to do. By putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and walking through their experience with your product or service.
To be clear, this is not asking your customers what they want and just giving it to them; this insight isn’t achievable through a ‘satisfaction survey’. We need proper user research, interviews and observation, sprinkled with a healthy dose of empathy.
From the insights we gain from our customers we can start to use our creativity to solve their problems and improve experiences in new ways that deliver value. Often times we find that the product or service will not be touched, instead we will improve and innovate ‘around’ the product.
Making things better for your customers is the root of all great innovation and your customers will love you for it. Just look at companies like GoPro who don’t necessarily have the best product in terms of technical features or price, but have innovated around the product to help their customers capture their adventures. The rewards are huge, and were not even closely replicable by Sony when they released a range of better and cheaper action cameras into the marketplace, but didn’t even make a dent.
In fact ‘good enough’ has been a trend in business for a while now. If you can solve a problem ‘good enough’, you customers will love you for it.
How we create low risk, high reward innovation
Ideas are easy in our opinion, especially if they are based in customer insight. It is more a case of ‘finding’ them, than ‘creating’ them. Unfortunately, us humans like to make things complex. We love big ideas that are difficult and expensive to implement. Maybe it’s the thrill of being a pioneer, conquering a new frontier.
At R&M, we take a different approach. We look at the problem in detail then help our clients come up with ideas to solve the problem, or improve the experience. Then we run these ideas through the Effort vs Impact matrix (download PDF here) and look for quick wins we can implement straight away, as well as identify ideas that are worth prototyping and testing due to the larger effort required to execute them.
By doing this, we are placing multiple small innovation ‘bets’ that we can easily test and measure for results, rather than sinking large amounts of time and money into one ‘breakthrough’ innovation which is often doomed from the start.
Ideas without execution = no innovation
Taking an idea to execution is no easy feat. The thrill of the idea starts to dissipate and the reality of execution can drain our energy, not to mention that lingering fear of ‘will this work?’
Introducing rapid prototyping. We love prototyping. It’s a simple process to stop guessing if something will work and instead gain some momentum.
At R&M, we help our clients create quick and cheap prototypes of solutions that we can test with customers. From this we can quickly learn, iterate and then implement innovations. This is a liberating experience and utterly destroys the ‘creative genius’ mythology. Instead of pretending to be able to predict the future, we quickly create the future and get it in front of a customer. This technique is especially helpful for avoiding long and wasteful argument sessions in ‘innovation’ meetings.
‘Fail fast and fail often’ has become a catch cry in start ups, but we disagree with this sentiment. Instead we think of it as ‘learn fast’ as that is the real goal, not failure. Ask yourself today how you can create a quick and dirty prototype of an innovative idea you have: you might just surprise yourself.
I’m co-founder and director of Raine & Makin, a purpose led design company. We help organisations solve problems and achieve success by putting people’s needs at the heart of everything they do. I write about experience design, strategy and innovation. If you find some value from my musings, please hit that heart button below ;)