Where does innovation begin?…

In the previous delivery I discussed the product development process. Innovation should not be an occasional activity and it requires a stable, reliable product or process development process that must be analysed continuously for improvement.

Many people think that coming up with the “a-ha moment” is the starting point of innovation. Although it does happen sometimes that creativity strikes from nowhere, instead of waiting for it, what you want to do is focus your idea generation efforts around the most profitable challenges and opportunities that your organisation can look to solve.
Follow the frustrations:
So how do you find these most profitable challenges and opportunities? I originally wanted to delve into scenario planning and trend spotting, but decided that I am rather going to go about this very logically.
Firstly, I am going to make a bold statement and say that typically, organisations (people) know where the pain points or frustrations lies, and usually it is the employees who have to put up with these frustrations every day that have these insights. Ordering system not working? People doing a simple, monotonous task that can be automated? Constantly running out of stock? A repetitive customer complaint coming through? A process that wastes time because “we have always done it this way”? A specific budget item that always gets overspent? A piece of machinery that always breaks when you can least afford it?
An outdated HR policy that prevents people from being empowered and driving performance? I can go on and on, but the point here is, people who are fighting in the organisation’s trenches, know where these “peeve points” occur. So, if it is that obvious, why don’t these employees just say so? Make sure to read my upcoming article on the influence of culture on innovation.
Since the purpose of a business is to create a customer (Peter Drucker), the next logical place is to focus your innovation efforts on your customers’ pain points with your products or services. Well how do you know what those are, you ask? Easy, courtesy of Dr. Amantha Imber. Observe – Watch customers interacting with your product or service. Keep an eye out for “work-arounds” (a temporary fix to a problem that a customer has created), swearing and general frustration. All of these things indicate a clear opportunity for you to innovate your offering. Ask – Ask your customers about the things that frustrate them most about your product or service category.
After speaking to a number of customers, themes will start to emerge. If you can solve a frustration that a large portion of your customers are complaining about, then chances are you have a profitable innovation on your hands. Do – Use the product or service yourself and write down anything you personally find frustrating or annoying about the experience.
Once you have identified the biggest frustrations, you are now ready to start generating ideas, which will be focused around something your customers will actually want.
These “methods” for figuring out where to focus innovation sounds so simple, yet so few organisations apply it. But why is that? That is not an easy answer to give. There can be many reasons: culture, old habits, no process, egos, stubbornness, wrong priorities, etc. Sometimes an organisation is just so busy “keeping the lights on” that the people forget to take a moment, stand still, look around and ask a couple of simple questions.
So, leave the office and spend some time between your customers and in their shoes and then start to innovate!


Next Time
Any idea that seems like a “winner” is not necessary always a good idea. The risk is that the idea, if implemented, could take the organisation way off strategy because the idea generation was unfocused. Make sure you start innovation by identifying the right problem to solve. Sometimes the customers actually do not know what they want, so next time I want to touch on two proven methods to spot unknown opportunities, namely trend spotting and scenario planning. I conclude with a simple, but very powerful, quote from Bill Gates: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”


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