Since I have moved out of a large corporate into independent consulting, I have been asked by many organisations a similar question: “How do I know what to innovate or which ideas to focus on?” For me, the response is consistent, focus on why you want to innovate, then the prioritisation takes care of itself. Well maybe it isn’t quite that simple.
There is a growing trend of people talking about ‘customer needs’ as the core of why they are trying to innovate. This is reassuring as it is the only way to create innovation. Whether the needs were known by the customer (and previously unmet) or they were not known until the product or service exists it doesn’t matter. What is critical in this approach is that they are true customer needs.
This leads to the why. For those that are focusing on customer needs as their inspiration for innovation, their why is clear. In the Smart Disruption report recently released by Optus Business, they make note of this focus by both established organisations (enterprises) and digital natives (startups):
“Reassuringly, established organisations and Digital Natives both state unequivocally that delivering a product or service to enhance the customer experience is at the heart of the majority of business decisions made.”
I don’t doubt the aspiration or ambition. The problem for some is ensuring that these needs are real. With the rise of human centred design, customer immersion, customer co-creation and customer engagement, I truly believe a number of customers are embedding this thinking into everything they do and enabling the decision making to be in the best interest of their customer.
Where I think some organisations have room to improve is to truly test these needs and ensure that a market exists and that it has enough room in it to scale to enable a real business to flourish. The customers need to see that the solution being offered solves a problem in a way that they want / will use. For some, they are blinkered into solutions that utilise existing assets, are easier to implement or involve less change. These factors obviously make it easier or less costly for the organisation but unfortunately often miss the mark with consumers.
How do you stop this from happening? Through a process of experimentation (small and large), you can create real customer feedback and data that will provide insights to know if the innovation that you are trying to bring to market truly meets the customer needs you are targeting. Co-creation and collaboration with customers.
“The product team spends a lot of time investigating what people want, and what the best way of doing things are, usually in the form of AB testing on the website or app. This provides two feedback loops - customer feedback on the issues they’re having, and how customers are responding to the changes made. these two cycles are extremely visible and important to the business.” Brent Maxwell - THE ICONIC
The trap to avoid is falling in love with your solution. When seeking feedback and creating experiments to test your ideas, you need to avoid the bias that can come with creating a solution. too often, innovators fall in love with the solution which blinds them to the real truth of the potential success or failure. We can look to seek out data that confirms only our hypothesis and ignore any that disagrees with it. Keeping yourself and the organisation open to the reality of the results, being objective and honestly evaluating the situation with open minds will see the best results.
When you can truly focus on your customer needs, the prioritisation of which innovations to accelerate and which to let simmer for the time being becomes easier. The clarity that comes with understanding your ‘why’, ensures the risk of minimised and your efforts are focused.
About the author: Ryan Liddle is a passionate innovator, entrepreneur, executive, creator, analyst and advisor. Through more than 20 years in industry, he works closely with organisations of all sizes to bring ideas to life.