How are you approaching the innovation challenge?

ideas

We live today in ever faster changing times. The industrial, technical and   telecommunication revolution of the end of the last century are quickly being followed by the information and social connectivity revolutions. It has never been easier to learn, create and share.  Whilst a lot has been written about deconstructing businesses and their business models. We have witnessed giants like Eastman Kodak, or Encyclopedia Britannica, who have failed to develop and market innovative products and services as their traditional business models were doomed were being destroyed. There are countless other examples of all sizes and national backgrounds; and they all share something in common: a failure to adapt to changing times, a failure to innovate.  But you better get ready because the next revolution will be the innovation revolution.

But wait innovation “today “is not was it was 20 years ago, it has evolved. Perhaps the best example of a modern innovative company is Apple.  Under Steve Job’s leadership, they explored and exploited other innovation dimensions such as customer experience through: design, quality, ease of use, shops and distribution.  Innovation today is not only about  new and improved products, it’s about the way we see our customers and how well we understand their needs and how we can serve them. Even if the foundation for any successful business is a quality product, there are many other aspects of our offering where a little innovation can gain us a competitive advantage.  It would be foolish to ignore it.

So how to approach the innovation challenge?

Start by understanding “who” your customers are?  It’s ok to serve everyone who wants your product, but its better if you know understand your customer’s buying patterns. Because when you understand, you can better target them with specials and offers that can boost your bottom line.

Once you know whom you are targeting, reflect on their needs. A good tool to help you put things into perspective is the KANO Model. By reflecting, categorizing and weighing and comparing your product/service attributes vs your competitors you can create a clear picture of where you stand. Because over time product attributes have a tendency to move down from delighters to performance and then basics, you can also use the tool to map your innovation strategy for each product over multiple product generation.

Kanomodel

You a can also use the KANO tool for the next phase: mapping the results of your customer’s experience and that of your competitors.

The next phase is to reflect on your customer’s experience.  Ask them for feedback and engage and prompt them to give you ideas; “put your self in their shoes”.   This is can often be a problem as the contacts you have at your customers are rarely the ones using your products.  You will have to put some effort into your initiative if you want real feedback for the users of your product. Sophisticated companies strive to understand the internal dynamics of their customers as to identify the influencers, stakeholders and decision makers with regards to their products. Not getting any complaints from the shop floor maybe the kind of minimal criteria needed to stay in the game, other times it requires a lot more than that.  Whichever approach you pick, to learn about your customers and their organisations, it is important to remember that the rule here is not  “More is better” but rather the opposite “less is more”. For it is important that your customers see actions out of your questions and survey; otherwise they will lose interest and won’t give feedback anymore; you are wasting their time. Just remember that when you ask for feedback you should give feedback in return.

The real news is that individuals and small business entrepreneurs can also use these tools to discover opportunities around them, services that are not being fulfilled or other innovative offerings. By playing to their strengths and turning their weaknesses into advantages they can carve niches out of otherwise saturated markets and distinguish themselves from their competitors just by thinking through their approach to innovation.

When did you last stop to smell the flowers?

Much has been said about the power of the moment. Books have been written telling us to focus on the most important time in our lives: not the past nor the future, but the present – the now. And, indeed, the present is where it’s at!
The present is where we make decisions and take action, and it is these actions that determine our future and create the memories that will, tomorrow, be our past. We process many of these decisions and corresponding actions almost unconsciously, but it is precisely this capability that is also our weakness, as it allows us to get distracted. In today’s world everyone demands our attention. Where the industrial revolution gave us more time by simplifying manual tasks (and in some circumstances removing them altogether), the information revolution is consuming more and more of our time. The difference is that now we have a choice: our devices have an off switch – and we should use these more often.

As I look back over the decades at the growth of consumerism, I can see that, as more and more things became available, companies vied for my money by promising me products with “effortlessness operation” and “lasting quality”. During the occasional visit to my aunt’s, I can remember marveling at her electric can-opener, thinking it was really cool. Fortunately, I never did buy one, as it would now be collecting dust up in the attic – along with the other marvels of health and productivity, like a juicer and an old vacuum cleaner. The industrial revolution brought about consumerism, the excesses of which are, unfortunately, visible not only in my attic, but also in the island of rubbish floating around the Pacific Ocean. But I guess this is the price we pay for what we have today.

www.sodahead.com

Now we have the information revolution, with many companies vying for our time and attention: the new currency. Everything is compressed; the mobile device makes us more productive, yes, but it also makes us a slave to others without even realizing it. Being able to read our emails & finalise a presentation on our iPad, whilst on the beach, may enable us to rethink where we can live; however, it also means we don’t really switch off during our holiday. Let’s face it, some of the stuff we can do with our mobile device can be addictive. Have you ever seen a couple having dinner in a restaurant, each of them with a smart phone in their hands, and, rather than looking each other in the eyes, they are both checking their emails! A perfect example of this new trend is a company called Zinga, which makes some of the most popular social games on Facebook. Last year it generated over 1 billion dollars of revenue from its 250 million users. Many of these users are addicted to the games and spend hours playing them on their computer everyday.

As we continue down the “on demand” path, we have more and more choices available to us at the touch of a button. Our propensity to get distracted grows exponentially, obscuring our ability to enjoy the moment without some kind of electronic stimulation. Of course, it’s a choice and we are the ones that make the choice. But choices are often made subconsciously, like the reflex to check your email when you hear the ping of your portable device. I suggest you consciously turn off your devices for a certain amount of time each day – dinner being one of those times, when you can engage in real dialogue and maybe even practice your storytelling skills. Go for a walk and fill your senses with the beauty of nature: the grandeur of the oak tree, the rustling sound of a river or creek, the sweet smell of blossom in the spring or the relaxing feeling of walking barefoot on a beach. Whichever experience is available to you, spending time reconnecting with nature and people is sure to be time well spent.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 1 September 2013