When you encounter a definition for innovation (there are quite a few), it will most likely revolve around either the concept of Idea or the figure of the Customer, maybe even both. So what is first? The idea or the customer? The chicken or the egg? Allow me to think laterally for a moment and say… none of the above!
I was reading a couple of weeks ago a very interesting study, where they asked a number of innovation experts a few questions, including their basic definition of innovation (you can see it at https://www.ideatovalue.com/inno/nickskillicorn/2016/03/innovation-15-experts-share-innovation-definition). They did some analytics on the results and came up with some conclusions like a combined definition for Innovation. I recommend you to take the time to check it out, but I just wanted to focus on some aspect of their analytics, where we can find that 60% of the definitions include the concept of idea while 40% include the concept of customer.
So, if most experts believe that innovation revolves around ideas and/or customers, am I saying that they are wrong? No, of course not. What I am saying is that I suggest taking a different path, which will of course connect idea and customer, but starting from understanding the problem to solve. Allow me to elaborate a little.
If you start your innovation endeavour from an idea, it could bring you to a typical “Valley of Death” situation where you have developed something you believe to be great, but no one wants to buy it from you because they find no added value, a big entry barrier or any other possible reason. I had the chance to attend a few days ago to the event “El día de la Innovación 2016” in Madrid, where we were lucky enough to listen to Xavier Verdaguer (@xavierverdaguer) explaining that, in one of their projects, they had developed a sensorised water bottle to ensure and check how people in the office kept hydrated, but found out during user testing that people poured the water into cups or glasses to drink from them (instead of from the bottle), rendering useless their idea. Fortunately, they were smart and quick enough to learn from the initial prototype and pivot towards another solution better suited to the user’s behaviour, an intelligent coaster or bottle holder called the Ôasys Intelligent Assistant (http://oia.io/)
On the other hand, should we start asking the customers or users what they want? Well, that does not seem the best way to go if we listen to innovation masterminds like Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”, or Steve Jobs, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.
My argument is that you need to listen to the users (or even better, observe them), but not when they tell you what they want, but instead when they tell you what they miss or what they are bothered with. Try to find out the problem or need behind those arguments and as Carlos Osorio (@carlos_osorio) says, in one of the mind-opening arguments he gave us during the Deusto MBI, “start with challenges not from ideas”. You will need to bring the creativity and ideas into the process, as well as the user/customer opinion, as both are essential to succeed in your innovation effort, but incorporate them as part of the journey to solve a problem or need. This will help you to maintain your real course of bringing in added value.
Ideas, creativity… of course! Users, customers… absolutely! But none of them comes first; finding the need/problem to be solved should be your starting point…