Tuesday, March 29, 2016

One aspect is common to all innovations – they solve problems. (Nir Eyal)

There are a lot of companies out there trying to be innovative. How they go about doing that, though, is what really matters.

Now, you may simply work at a company where everyone is a genius and comes up with at least a dozen brilliant ideas every day. I guess that means places like Apple and Google and FaceBook and Twitter … 

Unfortunately, though, it’s probably not the company you work at. I mean, we all can’t be astronauts when we grow up now, can we? Not that that’s going to stop a lot of us from thinking we work at Google, or that we’re the next Johnny Ive, or that we’re going to come up with the next SnapChat.

So, if we’re not crazy, brilliant geniuses, how do we come up with those great innovations? One thing I do not recommend is sitting around staring out at the window. Another thing I don’t recommend is the group version of this, a brainstorming session.

What I recommend instead is to try to identify what problems your customers or users are having and then try to solve for those. And one way you can do that is to simply ask your customers. Believe me, they’ll have a lot of good ideas.

At the same time, though, they may not be fully aware of all the problems they are having, or that something might be done in a better way, or that something might even be a problem. In addition, they might not be that good at articulating those problems, or prioritizing them, or identifying their root causes. So, customer feedback – though invaluable – will always be a partial solution.

One thing I’ve found particularly valuable for uncovering problems – and, ultimately, for coming up with innovations – is ethnography. Now, all that really means is “field studies” – watching people complete their own tasks in their own environment. These tend to generate a ton of data, data that covers the user’s whole experience.

Further, what these things are particularly good at is identifying the pain points, the gaps, the holes – even when users may not be totally aware of them themselves. And once you’ve identified those, it’s actually not that hard to come up with some pretty creative ideas – ideas that can address those gaps, ideas that not every other company might be doing, ideas that might be actually genuinely innovative.

Believe me, it’s a lot more than clever graphics involving light bulbs

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